First, the bad news: “I find it hard to tell you, ’cause I find it hard to take,” but Mad World Records is no more. At least not as regulars know and love.
The literal mom-and-pop record shop’s storefront is already closed to customers — for good. After nearly nine years, the store has been pushed into an early shuttering because of shutdowns triggered by COVID-19. And as coronavirus cases spike, a handful of Denton shops have announced their permanent closures or hasty transitions to online-only virtual shops.
Owner, manager and lifelong record, tape and CD collector Mark Burke says he will announce he’s closing Mad World Record’s storefront today, Friday, on social media. To make matters worse, Burke can’t throw a final sale like record stores usually do because of safety concerns for him, his family, employees and the community.
The good news: Burke spent “nearly every moment” of March and April cataloging most of his merchandise, new and used, to prepare for launching an online shop — something “100%” previously anathema to him before the outbreak of the virus.
“We never thought … never really planned to ever have an online store,” Burke says, surrounded by some 35,000 records, tapes and CDs he’s amassed over the decades in the biz.
2020 has not been a kind year for indie record stores in particular. In April, Rolling Stone ran an article headlined “Record Stores: Coronavirus ‘Could Be the Death Knell’ for Indie Retailers’ with the subhead: “Most shops were already scraping by, but many look for hope as the pandemic forces their doors closed.” The story dealt with a series of issues plaguing indie music stores, from distributor warehouses closing or being out of stock.
Burke had watched and successfully surfed the ebbs and flows that have crashed down upon the music industry for the past three decades, as CDs replaced tapes and records and then Napster and MP3s again caused a sea change followed by the resurgence of bootlegs and mixtapes before the tide came back in for the sales of vinyl and the advent of Record Store Day.
When Burke and his wife, Maria, opened Mad World Records the shop filled a void in Denton, offering music fans a place to get their hands on indie and mainstream used and new releases records and CDs, unique pin-back buttons, vintage T-shirts and other collectibles. The shop instantly became a community hub for the Denton music scene, with several of Mark’s former employees playing in or fronting bands.
“I was bummed after I first talked to him,” laments Daniel Fried (TV’s Daniel of Bad Sports, Radioactivity, VIDEO, Wax Museums and other bands) after learning the doors were closed for good. Fried worked at the shop for more than three years before moving to Austin. “But Mark needs a break,” he says of Burke.
Before opening Mad World, Burke owned and operated CD Addict in Carrollton for nearly eight years, and he managed record stores for seven years before opening his own.He moved to Dallas at age 18 with little more that the Fishbone T-shirt on his back and a Walkman and a duffel bag full of cassettes. He soon landed a job at the Sound Warehouse at Coit and Arapaho roads in Richardson. And other than one year delivering pizza in college, he’s always been a career “record store zombie,” as he calls it.
But the move from a strip-shopping mall in Carrollton to the heart of downtown Denton brought “massive amounts” of foot traffic. Half of his clientele, Burke estimates, were first-time customers who just wandered in.
Mad World closed the doors to customers on March 20, reopening so customers could call in orders for curbside pick-up only on April 23. Their social media post announcing the online shop read, in part: “We never thought we would do this, but our shop is online now. Our aim has always been to be an old school mom & pop authentic record store where customers can thumb through out products, touching albums while exploring new artists and being turned on to new music through our interactions and conversations.”
And those spontaneous conversations that happen over record store bins are one of the things singer-songwriter Chris Welch of alt-country act Pinebox Serenade, blues rock outfit Old War Horse and the R&B and soul-infused The Cicada Killers says he’ll miss.
“I used to go to CD Addict in Carrollton, that’s where I met him,” Welch says of Burke. “I walked in and Little Grizzly was playing, and I was like ‘I know those guys,’ and Mark was like ‘I do too.’ Then a few years later, he was like, ‘Do you think I should open a store in Denton on the Square?’ and I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’
“When Mad World opened, it affected me a lot,” Welch says. “It opened me up to stuff I’d never listened to before, from punk, Dirtnap Records releases, so many bands, I never listened to that stuff before, and then Mark found out what I liked, and nudged, and now I have a punk band, The Undefeated, and we’ve been socially distancing practices.”
Once they opened the browsable online shop, Mad World began offering curbside pickup service from 1 to 5 p.m. every day. Due to the financial burdens created by the pandemic, paying rent and renewing a lease was no longer realistic. The Burkes applied for the Denton County Small Business Grant program the day the applications opened, but were denied on June 12.
“It could have bought us time,” Mark says.
And Mad World isn’t the only local gem to close in recent weeks. SCRAP, which the Dallas Observer named 2018’s Best Craft Store, announced on June 17 the shop was closing. Freaks and Geeks announced the video-game-comic-toy-trading-card shop would close their storefront and move to online only sales May 29.
Opened in the fall of 2015, Escaping the Square, one of Denton’s two escape rooms near downtown, announced the family business’ closure on March 28. Then on May 30, The Breakroom, which opened in August 2018, also announced their permanent closure as of June 6.
An exception to the “cool” shops, Market on Oak (from the folks behind Grapevine Olive Oil Co.) closed, and a hastily printed sign taped to glass of their storefront window announcing the shop’s permanent closure reads: “Thank China For This Message!”
Thursday, a Denton-based commercial realtor, who requested only to be identified as only “The Prophet of Doom and Gloom,” hinted that the city is just watching the beginning of the end for many businesses in Denton.
“I think the real closures will be over the next three months,” The Prophet of Doom and Gloom predicted.
“I 100% agree,” Burke says of the projection. “I’m worried about all my favorite restaurants.”
Despite the spike in coronavirus cases and so many closures, things aren’t all doom and gloom for the Burkes or the Square. Mad World’s new online store will offer free delivery to Denton addresses — with same-day or next-day deliver depending on the time of day customers place the order. And Burke is considering seasonal pop-up shops taking over empty spaces in the vein of Halloween shops or fireworks stands, but he has no plans of opening a storefront full-time again. After a brief pause, Mad World’s customers will be able to pick up orders at the new store going into the location, which previously housed Elements of Design, a home décor and boutique apparel shop.
“We’re going to work with Mark so his customers can come by and pick up orders in person,” says Tim Stoltzfus, owner of More Fun Comics & Games, which is five doors down from Mad World. “So they can continue to help support Mark while checking out our new store.”
Stoltzfus says More Fun Toys! will stock an eclectic combination of new toys and pop culture merchandise, as well as vintage toys and collectibles ranging back to the ‘70s.
“The idea is there’s something for every age groups who drops in,” Stoltzfus says. “From plushies and toys for the kids to a super deluxe Iron Man figure.”
Targeting mid- to late August to open, Stoltzfus wanted to stress to his customers that “the other store is not going anywhere.”
“The long-term plan is to keep both stores open,” he says. “We plan to keep both open concurrently for the foreseeable future.”
Of the life-sized statues Mad World regulars will fondly remember, the vintage Officer Big Mac from McDonaldland will remain in the store, but Frankenstein’s Monster is moving in with the Burkes.
“I don’t know where we’ll put him yet, but Frank is coming home,” Burke says.