The Self-Made Man: Tony Pence
One of the coolest places in Baltimore—and yes, there are a lot of cool places to choose from—is Celebrated Summer, a record store specializing in punk, hardcore, and indie, with some other random genres (soul, reggae, etc.) thrown in as they cross the owner’s transom. In this case, the owner is Tony Pence, a fixture in the local punk scene who starts new bands every month, and one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet. He’s also an entrepreneur of sorts, although he’d look at you funny if you ever called him one to his face.
Tony had worked in record stores for a long time before starting his own, but it was seeing small, almost closet-sized shops in Japan that gave him an idea for how to run one himself and sustain it. The Japanese record stores he saw didn’t have high overhead because of their size, which also allowed them to limit their inventory to stuff they cared about and wanted to sell.
In Tony’s case, what he wanted to sell was punk rock and hardcore records, which gave him a sense of purpose as an awkward, solitary Baltimore teenager (paraphrasing his own words here) and didn’t lose any relevance once he became an adult. Since the best and most successful start-ups are passion projects, as opposed to get-rich-quick maneuvering, his path was pretty clear.
The idea of a small boutique store was pretty easy to recreate in Baltimore, too. Celebrated Summer started off in the back of a comic book shop (which is when I discovered it), moved to the back room of an independent book store called Atomic Books, and now has its own space, kind of, next door to Atomic. The walls are covered with old flyers and promotional posters, as well as art projects related to the store, many of them created by customers. Large businesses call that “crowdsourcing” and spend billions trying to coax it out of the public, but Tony’s displays were all spontaneous expressions of gratitude.
Celebrated Summer is also an antidote to snotty record stores where the clerks turn their noses up at you if you buy something they don’t like, mainly because Tony is one of the nicest people on Earth. He’ll talk music with you for as long as you can stand it, doesn’t mind playing records for people who don’t know what to buy, and has even provided an in-store customer traffic chart so people can see when the store’s busiest times are and plan their shopping accordingly.
Finally, Tony is a workhorse who pretty much spends his life buying, sorting, and pricing records. Work ethic is TSB’s favorite barometer for deciding who is and isn’t a real entrepreneur, and Tony Pence absolutely makes the cut.
He’s also in some really good bands. I’ll leave you with this clip of his band Deep Sleep, performing out on the street in 2010.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.