I walked into the oldest business in the Old Market looking for Mike Fratt. My search for the general manager of Homer’s Music was blocked by towering racks of vinyl records and CDs.
Then I heard his voice. The voice that hosted a three-hour radio show called “Sunday Morning” for 10 years on 89.7 The River—until he got tired of getting up at 5 a.m. every Sunday. The radio show on the campus of Iowa Western was 16th in the ratings when he began. Several years later, ratings had zoomed to third place.
A bassist, Fratt has played in local bands for 30-plus years, touring to concerts in cities such as San Francisco and New York. (He harbors a special love for western swing and bluegrass.) He also has written about music for various publications.
Fratt has worked in the retail side of the music biz since his high school days in 1975, when he worked at Musicland at Crossroads Mall and the Record Shop at Westroads Mall.
The Omaha native has worked at Homer’s for 38 years. One of the few independent music stores still standing in the nation, Homers once had as many as 11 locations in Omaha and Lincoln. Now all that remains is the glass-front store in the Old Market boasting album covers and local shows.
“The ‘Walmarting’ of music, followed by the digital revolution, pushed independent music stores out of business,” says Fratt.
The recent resurgence of the popularity of vinyl records and their warmer sound have brought buyers back into the store. Record Store Day, a worldwide event held the third Saturday in April that was co-founded by the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS), also has created enthusiasm.
As a CIMS board member, Fratt helped organize Record Store Day. He is currently CIMS chairman.
It’s an exciting day for vinyl record fans. A line forms down Howard Street and around the corner, with people hoping to get a limited edition item. Some fans arrive at 3 a.m. The store doesn’t open until 10 a.m. This year, an estimated 500 people stood in line.
The scene is duplicated around the world. “In some cities, people start lining up the night before,”
In 1985, a fire in an adjacent building destroyed the space Homer’s occupied at 1210 Howard Street. Homer’s moved to 1114 Howard after the fire, where the store did business for 25 years.
Homer’s returned to 1210 Howard in 2010, one of five locations the Old Market store has occupied in its 45-year history.
From a small shop in the middle of the country, Mike Fratt has made a nationwide impact. The Wall Street Journal featured him on its cover in November 2014 when he led a battle against moving Record Release Day from Tuesday to Friday.
“People already shop weekends,” says Fratt, who at the time served on the Music Business Association board of directors.
He lost that battle, but won another after organizing retailers to file an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the right to sell used goods.
“Justice Breyer noted part of our brief in his decision,” he says. “That was a career highlight for me.”
Fratt also served on the board of directors of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. He organized the first multi-venue showcase in the Benson area, where he and his wife, Sarah, live.
About three to five percent of Homer’s sales happens online. Tourism is a healthy contributor to the bottom line, he adds.
“From April through October, one-third of our business is from tourists. They don’t have a store like this in their city, whether New York, Kansas City, or Chicago.” Encounter
Visit homersmusic.com for more information.