Summer of 1983 was the first time anyone in Fort Wayne could buy a CD.
In fact, the only place you could get a CD was from 24-year-old Bob Roets, owner of the Wooden Nickel record store on North Clinton Street.
The CD cost $32, and Bob said he also purchased one of the first CD players, a Japanese-released Toshiba, for $850.
Bob said people have been coming back to buy their CDs ever since they started selling.
“And that’s what keeps us going,” Bob said. “That’s why in this particular store I’ve made money every single month since I opened in ’82. I’ve never lost money here.”
Bob said he moved to Fort Wayne in 1980, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, to manage Slatewood Records.
In 1982, the owner of Slatewood Records closed all the stores in one week. Six weeks later, Bob opened Wooden Nickel in Slatewood’s vacant lot.
“Wooden Nickel actually opened with $8,000 that my wife and I had saved up at the time,” Bob said, “and my record collection, which was about 3,000 albums.”
He said the name came from customers using small, wooden nickels to get free music. Ten tokens equal a $5 credit at the stores.
After the success of the first store, Bob said he opened a second location on North Anthony Boulevard, near IPFW and Ivy Tech, their “college store.”
He hired one of his biggest competitors, Tim Hogan from Karma Records, to manage that location.
Bob said Tim’s store was the only place locals could get vinyl in the early 1990s, when they largely stopped being pressed and sold, after the CD boom.
“We never gave up on vinyl,” Bob said. “We were the only place that you could get vinyl for about 15 years.”
By 1988, Bob he had six stores open across town.
Then, a free music downloading website called Napster appeared in 1998, and Bob said it changed the business forever. His younger clients started to download all of their music, instead of buying it in store.
“People were enamored by the fact that they thought they could get something for nothing,” Bob said.
By 2007, it had cost him three stores.
After that, Bob took part in the first ever Record Store Day, along with 130 other record stores nation wide.
Record Store Day is held on the third Saturday of April every year where Bob said record stores have hundreds of new releases and special sales.
“That was a turning point on vinyl,” Bob said. “Because no one was collecting vinyl and nothing was being pressed.”
Bob said for the first couple of years, he couldn’t get the local press to talk him about it. But vinyl changed everything, and Record Store Day has become his busiest day of the year.
The tables turned. Now the press calls him ahead of time to cover it.
Ten years ago, Bob had no vinyl in his store. Now, he has about 6,800 records in his location alone.
Tim’s location now sells about 120-150 vinyl pieces every day.
“New vinyl is really, really big,” Tim said. “I just had a guy buy three new albums, it was like $75. If people want something, they’re willing to pay for it. It’s pretty shocking.”
Bob’s son Chris said he grew up in the stores and has been around music his whole life.
“My mom would put me in the bins to corral me,” Chris said. “And when I was in my baby walker, I would sometimes leave the store and walk down the corridor and someone would have to bring me back because I escaped.”
He was the manager of the West Jefferson location in 2008, before leaving to open his own store, Entourage Music, in 2013.
Now he’s back where he started, managing Wooden Nickel.
After Entourage Music closed, he said he brought all of his merchandise over to the West Jefferson store.
“Our total work experience in-store is well over a hundred years,” Bob said. “And I don’t know how many record stores could say that around the country.”
Tim has been selling records for 45 years, Bob has for 39 years, and his wife Cindy has for 34 years.
Next year will be the 35th anniversary of Wooden Nickel and the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day. Bob said it’s a pivotal year for the company.
One of the things he has planned is bringing bigger musicians such as Bob Dylan to the Foellinger Theatre. You can buy tickets to the show and others at any of the Wooden Nickel shops.
“Next year I’m really looking forward to,” Bob said.