Jack White begins new chapter in Detroit with Third Man

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
View Comments

When Third Man Records opens its doors in the Cass Corridor on Friday, it will be a homecoming and a new beginning for Jack White’s record label.

The building, at 441 Canfield St. (next door to Shinola’s flagship store), isn’t far from the former site of the Gold Dollar, the now-shuttered space where the White Stripes played their first concert in August 1997. It will contain approximately 4,000 square feet of retail space — roughly quadruple that of the flagship Nashville location — and will house and sell all the vinyl goodies, trinkets and merchandise associated with White’s Third Man Records.

In addition, and even more important to White’s vision, it will include a 10,000-square-foot vinyl record pressing plant, making it one of only around 20 in the United States and a few dozen in the world.

The record pressing equipment is on its way from a manufacturer in Germany and won’t be up and running by Friday. But the long-term goal is that the plant will be pressing records 24 hours a day, seven days a week, creating industry for workers in Detroit.

“That can be a serious number of real American manufacturing jobs coming to the city. That’s exciting to me,” says Ben Blackwell, Third Man’s co-founder. “Putting out records is one thing, but manufacturing them is an entirely different world.”

The presses will be in full view of the store’s customers, so patrons can come in and watch records be pressed all day, if they like, Blackwell says. “And you’ll be able to walk 10 feet and pull one of those records off the shelf and buy it,” he says. “I don’t think that exists anywhere else in the world; I’m certainly unaware of it in the U.S.”

Jack White opened Third Man Records in Nashville in 2009, after relocating to Music City from the Motor City in 2005. Originally, he bought the building to store all his musical equipment but then started playing with the space: What if we were to put offices here, and a stage over here? The retail space was a final thought, and since it opened its doors, Third Man has become a destination for White fans, vinyl aficionados and music geeks.

There were no plans to expand the Third Man footprint — it’s not a chain — but if there was going to be a second store, it was going to be in Detroit, Blackwell says.

Conversations about retail opportunities with Shinola’s founders in February of this year led to a site visit in April, and Third Man closed on the space June 1. The following day, Third Man Cass Corridor was announced.

Friday’s opening — doors are scheduled to open at 10 a.m. — will feature a handful of in-store performances (from Margo Price, Lillie Mae Rische and the Gories) and will also see the debut of a series of reissued Tamla Records 45s, representing a partnership between Third Man and Berry Gordy’s early record label.

The singles — early releases by the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Barrett Strong among them — tell the story of a chapter in Detroit music history that isn’t often told and is in keeping with Third Man’s askew, obsessive- and collector-based sensibilities.

“Anyone can come and repress every No. 1 single that Motown did. That’s a story, but how interesting is that, really?” says Blackwell. “The story of Motown No. 1s has been written, and has remained written since they stopped having No. 1s. It’s not evolving at all, you’re not going to find a new No. 1. But for the never-weres, the forgotten stuff, the 300-pressed stuff, that’s where the story continues, that’s where you can still be interesting and create a narrative.”

A large wooden facade has been erected around the location’s windows while workers toil inside, and details of the space are being kept under wraps. It has been an around-the-clock process getting things ready for the Black Friday opening, says Roe Peterhans, who is overseeing the store’s opening.

“Right now I’m looking at 20 to 30 people all over the place — electricians, artists, sculptors, woodworkers, carpenters, audio engineers and lighting designers,” he says, talking on the phone while inside the space earlier this week. He compares the store to a small museum, rather than a simple retail shop.

“It’s a grand space,” he says. “It’s something to really take in visually.”

The key to the space, Blackwell says, is its flexibility. It will live and breathe and grow as time goes by, so what it ultimately becomes has yet to be determined.

“You can’t be rigid, you have to be able to accept different ideas and operate without close mindedness,” he says. “That’s worked for us very well in Nashville, and I think it will work equally well in Detroit.”



View Comments