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Dudley staple Funky Fresh likely to close

Tierney McAfee | 9/24/2008, 8:01 a.m.
Pictured is a flyer announcing the closing of longtime Warren Street music store Funky Fresh Records. Copies of the flyer, a takeoff on a cover from hip-hop magazine XXL, have been circulated in the Dudley Square area. (Image courtesy of Funky Fresh Records)

Rusty Pendleton, the owner of Funky Fresh Records, announced a month ago that he would have to close his Warren Street store’s doors after more than 20 years. His customers are still shaking their heads in disbelief.

“I hear this all the time: ‘I thought you’d always be here; you’ve been here for 20 years,’” he said. “And I say, ‘But I haven’t seen you in five.’”

The Dud­ley Square staple will likely close shop in early October. Pendleton attributes Funky Fresh’s downfall in part to a lack of community support — despite a seemingly steady stream of customers in the store, he says he’s not bringing in enough money to cover his bills.

“People don’t realize that businesses operate off of the patronage of their community,” he said.

He says business has suffered thanks to people purchasing bootleg recordings or shopping at mass retailers like Target and Best Buy. He also believes album sales have dropped because consumers are increasingly downloading songs through iTunes and other digital media applications.

“People don’t understand that when they take their money out of the community and spend it elsewhere, the community suffers,” Pendleton said. “You’ve got people chasing those deals at the Best Buys and Targets, and in the same breath, they’re losing their community.”

Although his initial intention was to close on Oct. 1, Pendleton says he’s still doing everything he can to keep the store open: keeping a plastic bin for customer donations, working to spread awareness through local media outlets and throwing a closing party/fundraiser tonight at 10 p.m. at Club Night Games in Somerville.

It’s no wonder Pendleton is going all-out to save his store. Now 42, the Roxbury native got his start working at the store more than two decades ago, when it was called Spin City. Several years later, he took over as owner, renaming the store Funky Fresh Records.

Over the years, he’s brought in big-name artists like 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Toni Braxton and Ne-Yo to visit the store.

Celebrity visits are just one of the many things that makes Pendleton’s store unique. Another, he says, is the availability of novelty items not to be found at other retailers.

The majority of customers who walk through Funky Fresh’s doors aren’t buying CDs — at least, not the traditional kind. For the most part, they are buying mixtapes made by local and national disc jockeys like DJ Clue and DJ Big Mike.

“This is the second coming of the official CD,” Pendleton said. “Mix CDs give you the opportunity to hear something new and get all the songs that you like on one CD.”

Pendleton says mixes might sell more because today’s artists are no longer making good, authentic music. These days, he says, artists sell singles, not albums, which makes people reluctant to spend money on a whole CD.

“Back when artists made good music, people bought CDs on faith,” Pendleton said. “Now, everything’s a question. ‘Is Ne-Yo’s new album really that good? Do I want to waste my money on that?’”