Hidden World Vinyl Records is named after the 2006 album by the Toronto hardcore punk band. While hardcore band titles include less-than-polite words starting with an F, local record shops seem to be hardcore about what embodies the ethos of politeness: community.
Naturally, Hidden World is off the beaten track. Located at 519 Second Ave. NW, Rochester, our local record store is in a mixed residential/commercial neighborhood bordering the railroad. There have been several pandemic-related closures over the past three years.
Hidden World obviously sells records, but they also find ways to engage and energize local communities interested in creativity and humanity.
“Our approach to record shops is a little different than what we’ve done in previous research,” says owner/operator Vy Thorng. “We run it as a co-op and it is a debt-free organization.”
Though using more colorful language, Thorng says the system avoids some of the downsides that come with top-down commercialization and billionaire goals.
“Music is about community and relationships, so shops that support music and music production should focus on that and make that part of the culture,” Thorng says.
The store has found some unique ways to do just that. When community members bring in new hats, socks, coats, or other cold weather essentials, Hidden World offers her a $10 gift certificate.
“The idea for Winter Hut Drive came from interacting with locals who live in our neighborhood,” says Thorng. “They come on their way to shelters that open later in the day to escape the cold.”
Thorng says he has interesting conversations with out-of-home people he meets at his store. All donations of new winter clothing Hidden World receives go to Dorothy Day her Hospitality House.
“The last two donations we received, the person didn’t want a gift certificate. They just wanted to donate,” Thorng says.
In addition to winter clothing drives, Hidden World also offers a space to host groups like the Rochester, Minnesota songwriter group. Later this month on his January 22nd, there will be free guitar lessons for him by local musicians. Lessons require an RSVP to reserve an instrument and are already fully booked.
“Our good friend Toby is a musician and wanted to give back, so this is his program,” Thorng says. “He bought a handful of guitars to give to people who needed them. All events held by us are free to attend at any time.”
Hidden World Vinyl also hosts live music shows, but Thorng has made it clear that it’s not a live music venue. “We don’t do any bookings and we don’t have the budget for that,” he said. “The way we perform is by going shop organically, through word of mouth and community support. Donations are limited to out-of-area crew members for fuel and food. We have a lax policy on original material, preferring new acts that play infrequently.”
Rochester resident Matt Kounniyom, 26, performs what he describes as “experimental ambient” and “solo-based” music. He has appeared in his Hidden World several times and has seen six shows since August.
“I met new friends and listened to interesting music,” he says. “Hidden He’s a great world because he’s willing to take risks with a small out-of-town band, regardless of age. It’s a homely space.”
He calls record shops “open-minded” and “disrespectful”.
Kounniyom will perform solo at Hidden World on Saturday, January 14 as part of a bill that includes bands Not Yet All Things, ACIDYOUTH, and Feral Light. Kounniyom describes the line-up as containing more “loud and jarring” music. It’s a genre he says he wants to “help grow” in Rochester.
One half of Minneapolis dance and electronic duo Not Yet All Things (NYAT), Nels Potvin samples, mixes and sequences while playing synths and drum machines. His partner, Nora, whom he calls “half NYAT dancing,” interprets music into visual storytelling.
Potvin says his group wanted to perform outside of Twin Cities and Hidden World seemed perfect.
“I love independent record stores. It’s a great place to relax while crate diving, socialize with other music lovers, and support local businesses,” says Potvin. says.
Next month, Hidden World will host the A Wretched Success show on January 28th and music from James Reed and Luke Hendrickson on January 31st.
“People support us by simply attending events, passing info to friends, joining us on Instagram to stay up to date, donating or selling used or unused records. We can,” says Thorng. He also says the shop will be supported if patrons “join bands, rap crews, art collectives, and literary groups.”
Thorng encourages people to “be forever interested in music and attend friends’ events around town, even if they’re not familiar with the genre.” Most importantly, he encourages everyone to have fun.
Hidden World Vinyl Records is located at 519 Second Ave. NW, Rochester.
Open Tuesday to Saturday from 1pm to 7pm
For more information on Hidden World Vinyl Records, follow our Instagram page @hiddenworldvinylrecords.