Across the street from the stately, limestone fortress that is the prestigious Indiana University law school, sits a squat little concrete box of a building that mysteriously or perhaps conspiratorially, or as I would hope, mystically, has never been knocked down. Google maps shows that it currently houses an establishment called “Chow Bar” where Chinese food and bubble teas are advertised in vinyl signage on the store front, and a “Penn Station East Coast Subs” which was also a sandwich shop in my day, under a different moniker.
I’ve been back to Bloomington a few times since I lived there, as a student in the late ‘80s and early (then mid) ‘90s, and every time those two locations are something different: a Subway, a Pizza Hut, another chain of some sort, or a local joint that will go out of business.
When I lived in Bloomington, the Chow Bar was where Ozarka lived. It was born from a different sort of vinyl, the type that music was recorded on. It was the indie record store where I worked, and the best job I ever had, even if I wasn’t the best at the job.
I would spend my days in there the happiest version of myself; on my feet, futzing and flitting about, rolling band posters tightly to get them back into their storage sleeves after showing them to customers. Playing music for people, and for myself. Hanging out with my boyfriend (now husband) who was in a band (because of course he was). Organizing the CDs into their sacred alphabetical order behind the desk, by genre out in front of house. It was a mom and pop shop minus the mom. We’d order import singles and full length CDs from rarefied distributors. I’d take cash out of the register, close up the shop and run to the UPS depot before it closed to pick up orders—CDs packed into cardboard boxes battered from their cross-Atlantic journey. We sold import singles with 3 songs on them for $10.95. We had customers on waiting lists for this music.
It was in this little room where I first listened to the Shamen, where I’d listen to Madchester compilations made by one of the other employees at the store. I listened to Pearl Jam’s “10” when it had just come out and thought, “This is metal, why do I love it?” and where Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was in constant rotation, blowing our minds. Ozarka was a microverse of verse, vice, grunge, rave, indie, goth, industrial, hip hop, alt country. It was a good time to be a record shop girl.
I quit because Ozarka’s business practices (or lack thereof) started to catch up with itself. It was going out of business after staying afloat, I think, for 25 years, on what I assumed was questionable tax filings, making most of its margin renting porno VHS tapes we stored in the back. My most regular customer was a man whose last name was, I’m not kidding, Pispenis. He’d rent half a dozen tapes at a time (all named with proper porno puns, mostly referencing Harrison Ford movies) and bring them back the next day. Someone was making a nice profit off pirated pornos copied from your friendly indie college rock store.
I went to work as a receptionist at a small real estate law firm whose owner was a graduate of Indiana University.
The owner of Ozarka was being sued by a client of my new employer, unbeknownst to me, until the day he walked in and we were face to face, me sitting behind the desk, him standing in front of it. It was a short, embarrassing, and sad exchange for both of us. I stepped inside the fortress, but it wasn’t a bad place to be. It was solid, and there were opportunities there for college-dropout me. The owner was a kind and open-minded man and is my friend to this day. He took me in and then took me on.
The law firm was the first step into my behavior as a serial “intrapreneur.” I have spent my career landing jobs and then doing work that has nothing to do with the job description. I can’t help myself. I digitized that law firm with a gig of network (a big WOW in those days), and a WordPerfect macro manual. I was sitting at my desk when my boyfriend called to tell me that Kurt Cobain committed suicide. I cried. My coworkers rolled their eyes. It was time for me to get on with it.
We’ll now jump through 20 years of corporate life, each of those years pulling me farther and farther away from the girl in the record shop. I was a music editor at Amazon.com, and a bunch of other stuff. Then I moved to the Netherlands and worked for Microsoft under various titles I never understood, doing a bunch more stuff which was really important to me personally that had little to nothing to do with anyone else I was working with or the company bottom line. Both companies gave so much education, experience, and security for which I am grateful. But the thing I learned most is that being an “intrepreneur” means you are trying to contort a vast organization to be compatible with who you are personally when it isn’t a natural fit. It’s an exercise in futility. I let this happen. In order to make the impact I really want to make, I had to go out on my own.
So that is why Ozarka is Ozarka. Practically speaking, I also thought it was a good name because it is for the most part, pronounced the same in every language. But I discovered too late it’s not heard the same. The Dutch ear has a hard time hearing the R and they think I’m saying “Osaka” and think it is a Japanese store. I hope they get used to it. I think they will. But most importantly, I’m bringing back the spirit of that store in the little cement box; the connection with customers, the connection to myself, and the lick of rebellion that only music can incite. At Ozarka NL, we’re picking a fight, picking fresh foods, and we’ll liberate what you eat from single-use plastic. I’ll never be behind a desk ever again.
Your faithful Ozarkan,