PORTLAND – Very few things are more “Portland” than Music Millennium.
Since 1969, when it first roosted at East 32nd Avenue and Burnside Street, the stalwart record store has played an outsized role in the regional music scene.
And its owner, Terry Currier, does little to challenge the idea of what kind of man owns a music lover’s mecca. His office floor is covered with vinyl records and CDs. Music from a stereo carpets the conversations there.
The 62-year-old, with a curly mop of hair and a short-bristled ‘stache, looks like a throwback. He speaks with an aloofness of an accomplished rocker. Even his computer, an old block of beige plastic, somehow makes him more rock ‘n’ roll.
Saturday is officially “Terry Currier Day” in Portland, as proclaimed by mayor Ted Wheeler. Although he spends the lion’s share of his day there, and his record store has been invaluable to the city’s eclectic personality, Currier is a Vancouver native.
Before he owned Music Millennium, he moved to the Lincoln neighborhood, he said, so he could “play my music as loud as I wanted, any time of day, without having to worry about the neighbors.”
“I bought a house, and I live in that house 41 years later,” he said.
Believe it or not, Currier wasn’t born praying at the altar of rock. Growing up in Seattle, Currier kept his ears tuned to violin and clarinet music, hoping to study the latter in college.
It wasn’t until he bought a ’66 Mustang at age 16 that he found regular access to radio airwaves. His family had moved to Ridgefield, and he tuned in to rock station KVAN, anchored by the likes of Gloria Johnson, Bob Ancheta and Willie Nelson.
“It kind of changed my life,” he said. A year later, he went to his first concert: Leon Russell, with blues guitarist John Nitzinger as the opening act. Two weeks later, he convinced DJ’s Sound City, a record store at Jantzen Beach, Ore., to give him a job.
“They hired me not because of my musical knowledge — because I really had no musical knowledge — but I was very enthusiastic about the music,” he said.
By then, Music Millennium was already making a mark. Currier, who lived with his parents, spent nights thumbing through records and liner notes to make up for lost time. His first year working, he bought 665 records, he said.
He joined Music Millennium in 1984 and became a co-owner three years later.
Currier’s legacy is as much about activism as it is about the music store he owns.
He spent the 1990s going toe-to-toe with big retail chains and distributors who wanted to clamp down on used CD sales. Though they didn’t rely on used sales, Currier said independent stores felt they had to take a stand. When country music star Garth Brooks made similar denouncements of used sales — he said they stole royalties from songwriters — Currier had all Brooks merchandise pulled from Music Millennium. Then he and other West Coast store publicly barbecued the merchandise.
“Within weeks after the barbecue, the four record companies rescinded their policies on used CDs and everything went back to normal,” he said.
It demonstrated to Currier how powerful the indie record stores could be together. He helped found the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, a group that today counts over 50 stores as members.
Yet, technological challenges continue to plague the industry, Music Millennium and Currier.
File-sharing services like Napster arrived in 1999, taking a bite out of record sales. Younger customers flocked to the internet for free and easy music. Without them, the life cycle of customers was cut, and sales dropped when older customers either cut back budgets or died, Currier said.
“Most people could make adjustments to make up for the loss of business and the loss of profits,” he said of other record stores. Music Millennium closed its other location on Northwest 23rd, consolidating into the Burnside Street store.
Then came iTunes, which was followed by subscription streaming services such as Spotify, which came later.
In 2008, the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and two other such organizations started Record Store Day to promote local, independent stores.
It did little to help CDs, but vinyl records have surged and breathed new life into music retailers. Vinyl sales have grown each of the last nine years, according to the British Phonographic Industry, a council of record labels. Sales hit $3.2 million in 2016, the highest market in 25 years.
“With vinyl, used vinyl is just as desirable or more desirable as new vinyl. It’s like collecting baseball cards or anything like that,” Currier said.
That’s been good news for Music Millennium, but Currier said they are still hamstrung by digital sales. In his view, record companies are doing everything they can to cut physical sales of music to save warehousing fees and distribution costs.
“They’re bean counters and stuff. They’re not music people,” he said.
Honored in Portland
Music Millennium has managed to stay standing thanks in large part to the community, Currier said. The building isn’t just a store, but a concert hall for local musicians.
“The community supports us, so we support the community,” he said. “We’ll promote peoples’ different events in our emails, put their posters in our store. There are certain causes we’ll donate to and make things happen.”
Terry Currier Day on Saturday coincides with Music Millennium’s 25th annual Customer Appreciation Barbecue.
Bartley Day, an entertainment lawyer in Portland, and a group of customers recently went to City Hall and petitioned for Terry Currier Day. Day said the group was full of people who have appreciated Currier and Music Millennium for decades.
“No one has really done more than Terry to create a sort of vibrant and cohesive music community in the Portland area,” Day said.
In May, Currier was flown to Nashville, Tenn. to be honored with the Independent Spirit Award by the Music Business Association. Currier said the two honors have made for a big year.
“I do what I do because of the music. The motto of Music Millennium, since I’ve been here, has been a place where the people and music still matter. That’s been my life philosophy — the way I live my life.”
Update: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect address for Music Millennium.