Not even a mile from what was once the Gold Dollar, the dive-bar launching pad of endless beers and garage bands in the mid-to-late ’90s, Jack White’s Third Man Records will open a Detroit branch of its Nashville-based operations.
But it’s not just the Gold Dollar that is within a mile. “It’s the Freezer, the Bronx Bar, the First Unitarian Church, Cobbs Corner, the original Creem Magazine headquarters, the Old Miami,” points out Ben Blackwell, a honcho at Third Man and nephew to Third Man creator Jack White, whose White Stripes were among the bands to get a start at the Gold Dollar, which closed in 2001.
The store opens on Nov. 27 — Black Friday — in a 4,300-square-foot storefront at 441 Canfield St., which it will share with watchmaker Shinola and a running store, among others.
It’s a larger version of the Nashville retail store, which is full of merch, records, books and its famous Record Booth, a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine that’s attracted the likes of Neil Young and Weird Al Yankovic.
But to be clear, Third Man is not moving its headquarters from the tidy complex it now owns just off downtown Nashville, which also offers a performance venue, recording studio, warehouse and offices.
“I think people think that it’s going to be exactly what we have in Nashville,” Blackwell said, adding that hundreds of people have already inquired about work at the new outlet.
That said, the space is large enough for intimate live performances, but nothing has been decided.
“There is no analogue to compare this to, pardon the pun,” Blackwell says, as Third Man has been a driver in the vinyl revolution, releasing thousands of records in the face of digital downloads and streaming.
“This thing is new and it will be a quasi-satellite store. But a lot of stuff is new here and we’ll be spending a lot of time in [the fall] getting it ready.”
The storefront has been around for a few years, part of it rented by Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis. But after a few meetings between White and Kartsotis, the idea to jointly buy the building was hatched. It is part of the vaunted Midtown revival in Detroit that will be pushed for better or worse by a $650 million sports mega complex that is 60 percent financed by taxpayers.
Third Man, the label, began in Detroit in 2001, launched by White as he and White Stripes mate Meg White were starting their trajectory to fame beyond either of their imaginations.
When it all ended, Jack White moved to Nashville and Third Man became an entrepreneurial endeavor with few bounds, starting with the purchase of a half-acre that was neighbors with a homeless shelter and methadone clinic.
The Nashville space hosts panel discussions, art exhibits, movies and live bands, taking up two adjoining buildings that were once in a dilapidated area just off downtown, which is now building its way to Third Man as if by summons.
White reluctantly left Detroit in 2005, where he was living in Indian Village. The Grammy Award-winning Motor City native felt driven from the city.
“I just felt like I didn’t have any friends,” he told me in a 2012 interview. “I loved my hometown and I loved music … it felt like everything had turned upside down.”
Fame and inexplicable local resentment had gotten him to that point.
“I would rather have my friends and the Gold Dollar instead of all this, if that was the choice,” he said.
Things, though, have turned out well. And he’s remained part of the city. He’s devoted himself philanthropically to Detroit, donating silently for the upkeep of a local park in 2009 (was it him?) and paying the delinquent tax bill on the Masonic Auditorium in 2013.
Updates on the new Detroit store will likely emerge soon, keep up to date at thirdmanrecords.com.