1988 was a turning point year for me. My first serious relationship had ended with my fiancee dumping me for a friend of mine, I moved out of my parents house, and was working full-time in a mind numbing factory job. Oh yeah, and my dog died too. The only high point was my part-time job working at a record store in Guelph, getting paid in vinyl. When the owners said they were opening a new store in Brantford and would like me to move there to manage it, I jumped at the chance. It was time for a change.
We opened Second Wave in Brantford on Colborne St. in September of 1988, in what used to be a flower shop. My original intention to live over the shop didn’t pan out, as it was in pretty bad shape and not really suitable. I did live there for a week or so though, with only a mattress and a stereo, and showering at the local YMCA. I finally found a nice, big apartment on top of a house on Brock St. and lived there for the 8 years the store was open.
From the first day we opened, we quickly became a hub for the music-starved crowd. Records on Wheels was just closing as we opened, making us the only indie shop in town. Our punk section was almost completely depleted on the first day, forcing us to restock in a hurry. It soon became clear that a lot of Brantfordians like their music loud and fast, and we imported stuff accordingly.
From the first day we opened the doors, I started making friends with the locals, many of whom I still count as good friends today. It became more than a record store—it became a social centre. People would come just to hang out and listen to music, play guitar, start a fanzine, or start a band. I became very aware of a vibrant, active scene in Brantford, full of young musicians and artists, and they all seemed to gravitate toward Second Wave.
After the first 3 years, the original owners felt they wanted out of the Brantford store. They were focused on the Guelph store and didn’t really understand the Brantford crowd like I did. Most people thought I was the owner anyway, as I was almost always there. I borrowed money from a good friend’s mother, and became the owner for real.
We moved across the road to the old Fiske’s Leather Goods store, painted it up as what was described as “the Partridge Family bus turned inside out”, and carried on for another five years. In that time, we had in-store performances by Scott B, Kittens, and Tristan Psionic, not to mention countless basement shows from local acts such as The Earthlings, Loser Parade, Furry Onion, Fed Up, my own band Dianthus, and a score of others. CBC TV ran a documentary series about up-and-coming Canadian bands called “Ear to the Ground”, and shot parts of the Scott B episode there. I never did get the CBC T-shirts they promised. I remember being surprised when Scott Merritt walked in—I had no idea he was from Brantford at the time. He seemed surprised to be recognized.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The downtown core got quieter and quieter, my larger customer base was getting older and moving away to college and university, the once hard-to-find alternative music we specialized in became more available in the chain stores, and the fire department told me we could no longer do the basement concerts. Can’t really blame them on that one, it probably wasn’t the safest of places, although no one ever got hurt.
I finally closed it down in spring of 1996, and headed to Kitchener-Waterloo.
What really amazes me about the entire experience is that even now, 18 years after the store closed, people still talk about it! There are articles on the internet, videos on YouTube, and my name and the store’s name still get mentioned in local media occasionally. Whenever I am in Brantford, I always run into someone who remembers me and the store. I am told the store sign and the stool I used to sit on are in the Brantford County Museum! Blows my mind.
I am proud and humbled that my little store meant so much to so many people. I have been told by many that it was like a safe haven for the artsy, left-of-centre, somewhat different kids who sometimes felt ostracized or ridiculed or even bullied. They knew they would be welcome at Second Wave.
At this time I would like to thank anyone who ever came into Second Wave, whether it was to buy, sell, browse, hang out or play music. I especially want to thank those I hired because they hung around all day anyway, and the ones who became life long friends. There are many of you, including a certain local newsprint publication owner/politician/all round great guy, who in his younger years skipped school to help me skip town, and gave me the opportunity to write this article.
Note: featured photo courtesy of Rob Michalchuk taken on the last day Second Wave was open.