Third Man Records Finds Its Way Home


Jack White’s Cass Corridor storefront plugs into a growing maker movement in Detroit.

Photo of Third Man’s Jack White in his hometown baseball stadium: AP

Jack White’s Third Man Records is a perfect example of a business deeply embedded in its community. Even though the record company’s first retail store opened in Nashville in March 2009, the business began in 2001 in Detroit, where White was born, raised, and formed his most famous band, The White Stripes. Last year Third Man opened a flagship location next to Shinola in Detroit’s Cass Corridor section, site of much rock’n’roll history in the Motor City. It’s quite the multipurpose site: record store, novelties lounge, performance stage, old-fashioned recording booth, and – coming soon – a vinyl pressing plant.

I visited Third Man as part of NewCo Detroit. I was predisposed to enjoy being there, being a fan of both the new and reissued music the label releases (everything from White’s own records to blues classics that originally came out on Paramount and Sun), as well as the attention to consistent design and detail that suffuses everything the company does.

I spoke to Third Man’s Roe Peterhans about how the team created that experience–and did it so quickly. “It was a real fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants model,” he said. “We worked with a 3D modeler and renderer so we could see rapidly what it would look like without an architect redrawing everything. We started and finished in seven weeks. Most places of this scale take at least six months. Yeah, we’re retro, but we’ve got no fear of leveraging modern technology. We’re very adept at blending. It’s a good balance.”

Although Third Man’s first storefront was in Nashville, the company was interested in having one in Detroit from the start. “We were waiting for a moment that felt appropriate,” Peterhans said. “We saw Corktown [a neighborhood west of downtown] develop and the beginning of a renaissance in different pockets. Downtown didn’t feel right. But we spent a lot of time in our late 20s and early 30s in Cass Corridor. It’s where we lived, it was inexpensive, it was near the school, and it was place where shitty bands could play in the mid-and-late 90s. To a lot of us, it represented following the footsteps of what happened in the 60s and 70s, keeping the culture going. The area makes the most sense for us. It’s a different center of commerce in city. It’s a makers’ neighborhood. You’ve got Shinola down the street with a watch factory. You can see bicycles assembled in front of you. We love being here and we want to encourage other maker businesses into the area.”

Next time I’m in Detroit, which I hope is soon, I’ll be able to see the company’s new pressing plant, which will go into production by the end of the summer. It’s part of a plan to bring good new jobs that you might not have expected to Detroit. Said Peterhans, “We’re creating jobs in Detroit for people who specialize in the music industry. Think about analog recording. That’s work that people weren’t going to go out and learn anymore. There are less sound engineers who are experts in something like analog recording. Well, we’re going to create ’em here.”

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