Smile Politely

Trial and Error

I see Nathan Landolt everywhere. From the grocery store to weeknight gigs at the Dingbat Dungeon, he’s there. There’s one place I know I can find him — Error Records. As I walked into the shop on an August afternoon, sun filtered through the large storefront windows and onto the natural wood shelving, as usual, or at least as it has since the business moved to that location last summer. But instead of sitting contentedly behind the counter, waiting to recommend the latest Tenement or Grouper record, Landolt is explaining the best distributor off which to buy Sonic Youth vinyl to a man I’ve never seen before.

I’m not surprised — Landolt announced last week that his record store and DIY venue would soon close. By the end of September, Error Records will be no more, but the location itself will re-open under new ownership as See You CD & Vinyl promptly after.

“I’m happy to hand this off and not have to tear everything out,” Landolt said. “I think that would be really disheartening. I’m not so much bummed as I am excited.“

After more than two years as a record shop and venue-owning and operating entrepreneur, Landolt realized he had doubts about his dedication. It was taxing to have to “put in 110 percent” each day.

“I still love this, and I love being here, but there are certain elements of the side of business that I can’t get excited about anymore,” he said.

That’s not to say that Error was a mistake.

Landolt has grown personally from the experience, as well as facilitated growth in the C-U community. Prior to opening Error Records, he was a self-described hermit. But since becoming a prominent figure in local music, Landolt has revealed a side of himself he never knew, and the crowd-funded launch of his shop was a sign of the community’s need for the new Nathan.

C-U needed an all-ages venue that wasn’t a house. It needed a place to purchase punk, metal and other extreme records and tapes. It needed a place for the next generation of the local music scene to call home.

Kids would mention to Landolt after their first punk show in his venue that they never would’ve come out to a gig if not for Error Records.

“They’re in bands now and have been doing it for two years and it’s really exciting,” he said. “I feel in a way that I’ve helped them, and more than just in a music way.”

But it’s the record shop portion of Error Records that saw more monetary success. Though Landolt had his own label and distro under the same name before opening the Champaign Location, his passion was in the DIY venue. Regardless, it was the rare titles and fair prices that kept the customers coming. When the rent became too high and he made the move to Urbana, he inadvertently started an Urbana renaissance of sorts that is still going strong.

Farm League Skate Shop opened in the same building around the same time, and while See You CD & Vinyl will take over the record shop portion of the old Error location, Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space, an “escape room” or interactive real-life puzzle game, will open where the basement venue used to be.

Holes were moshed into the walls at both locations, but Landolt forgave, remembering his own young, careless days. After hosting bands like Weekend Nachos, Hoax, and Masked Intruder (the PA system was destroyed after that one) it was clear that sort of thing came with the territory. Alice Bag, Thou, countless local bands, old and new—all threw down at Error.

Punk shows have tapered off since the move to Urbana. The vibe has changed: “With the old one there was a really good marriage and communication between everyone.”

As an all-ages and alcohol-free venue located next to a bar, it grew harder to find a crowd. People didn’t want to come to shows for the music. Landolt had to make some tough decisions

“You have to just make decisions to be successful in business… you’re the only one that knows what’s going to make it work,” he said. The challenge for Landolt, as a member of the DIY scene, was where to draw the line and not worry about being judged on whether his financial decisions were acceptable for a DIY space. Finding a balance wasn’t easy.

Jesse Grubbs, owner of See You, won’t have to face as many tough decisions, moving forward. He’s always wanted to have his own record store, and after going to school for music journalism, interning at Drag City and Polyvinyl, and eventually taking a job in the music section at Barnes & Noble, he has one.

”I didn’t think it was going to be in Urbana, Just because Nathan was here, we have Jeff over at Exile and Bob over at Record Swap,” he said. “But with the situation now there’s a lot less risk than me going into it completely blind.”

As a long-time record collector (since the age of 8) Grubbs hopes to recreate for others the experience of bonding over music with his dad, much like Landolt wanted to recreate his experience of going to all-ages DIY shows as a youngster.

Growing up in Indiana, Grubbs has always had a connection to music. “Record stores were my favorite place to be, growing up,” he said. In fact, the day he got his license, as a teenager, Grubbs drove to Champaign to visit Record Swap.

Now he has a local shop of his own opening on October 3rd, and goals to go with it: keeping a “healthy selection of what has made Error popular,” but also making the stock more accessible and less intimidating to the regular Joe or Josephine.

“[Customers] just see a lot of metal; that’s not something that appeals to the average person,” he said. “I want to be more inclusive than I am exclusive.”

Over time, he will find a balance. As Landolt points out, Error Records offers a product that is not anywhere else in town. For now, Grubbs said, “It’s just going to be trial and error.”

Photos of Landolt, Grubbs, and Error Records interior by Maddie Rehayem

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