Miles from pheasants and cornfields stands Drastic Plastic. And Antiquarium. And Homer’s.
Why are three record — actual vinyl record — stores here, within a block of each other, in downtown Omaha, just a stone’s throw from ConAgra Foods, a company worth more than $27 billion? It’s a mix of tradition and tenacity. Affordable commercial real estate also doesn’t hurt, according to Mike Fratt, general manager of Homer’s Music, who says it is no coincidence that record stores such as his are more likely to exist in Omaha than in Manhattan.
“Everyone said we’d be history by now,” says Fratt, who has been working in the store since 1979.
Drastic Plastic is the newcomer, having been open a mere 29 years. Homer’s and Antiquarium Records trace their lineage to the 1970s, when the Old Market District — now a mix of shops and restaurants ranging from French to Subway — was Omaha’s answer to Haight-Ashbury. The hippies are gone, but the record stores endure.
“If we don’t have something, we’ll send people across the street, and I know they do the same,” Fratt says.
Homer’s has moved five times in the past four decades, always within the Old Market District. Antiquarium, which got its start in the basement of a bookstore, also relocated when the bookstore departed — but just around the corner.
“We either had to close or move,” explains owner Brian Byrd, who hung out at the store as a teenager and got the keys in 2005. “Avoiding real work at all costs, we decided to move. I just really have a great community here. I feel supported.”
Drastic Plastic specializes in punk, indie and alternative recordings. Homer’s and Antiquarium have the corner on most everything else, from Roky Erickson to Benny Goodman to Stan Getz to Merle Haggard to Ramsey Lewis to James Brown.
Antiquarium is a case study in mishmash, featuring a beaten copy of the Beatles’ famed Yesterday and Today album cover tacked to a wall near a back room of secondhand discs where Shirley Temple resides next to KC and the Sunshine Band in bins labeled “Prices Slashed on Stuff Nobody Wants.” Expect to pay as little as a quarter, and take your time looking; there are worse ways to spend a sleepy Sunday afternoon than browsing through the best tunes of yesteryear while listening to Neil Young sing about conquerors dancing across waters.
There’s no Neil Young playing tonight at Werner Park, 20 minutes from downtown in a suburb called Papillion.