“We literally didn’t change anything, just added things,” Shoni says, adding that the Phillip’s sign will remain, although it may be altered. “If I say the Phillip’s Store, they know where I’m talking about.”
Once inside the doors, an eclectic mix of the old and new greets visitors. Phillip’s opened in 1937, and the building still contains the same wallpaper as well as a picture left hanging askew by workers who cleaned out the former men’s store. Milk crates carry vinyl records from older, almost impossible-to-find artists, and glass cases house music and paraphernalia from local artists.
“Part of the fun is searching and finding a treasure,” Shoni says.
The Estes shy away from mainstream trends, preferring to stick with “mom and pop” and “do-it-yourself” vendors. Named for a song from New York punk pioneers Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation carries various items from local artists, including jewelry and leather goods on consignment, as well as CDs, DVDs, candles, hats, T-shirts, shoes, books, skateboards and comics in both the store and on their Website at http://www.blankgen.com. The site features a Webcam view of the store and updates on the comics’ and music scenes.
“It’s a lot of unique things in one place,” Sean says. “You can get a lot of these things someplace else, but not in one place. The people who travel through from other places appreciate it more than some of the locals.”
Sean says “the normal rules don’t apply to us,” noting that the bad economy may have helped business at Blank Generation as tough times move their customers to look for an escape when they buy an old LP.
“Most of our customers are not CEOs,” Shoni says. “They’re hard-working middle-class customers. They’ll sacrifice money to get that album because it keeps them going.”
The store, which opened in mid-August, also provides a home for the Estes and their children Dakota Hawke and Logan Orion, whom Shoni homeschools. By having the children at home, Shoni says she can take care of any problems that arise. She recommends downtown living, noting that people should “appreciate it for what it is.”
“I love it,” she says. “I roll out of bed and I’m at work; that’s nice.”
Shoni makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry, and invites them to sit on the couch and talk with the family. Though some people scoff at raising children downtown, she says her children are learning empathy and humility by seeing how other people live.
“It’s a real feeling,” she says. “This is reality, not sugar-coated. Yeah, there’s homeless people and it’s dirty, but that’s life.”
Not only do the children see the real side of Little Rock, they also have front-row seats to the shows in the back of the store, in what amounts to a literal house party. The Estes note that bands get to know the entire family during their stay, which results in a home-away-from-home atmosphere.
“They get to hang out and jam with the kids. They leave huggin’ us and they’ve only known us for 24 hours,” Shoni says. “ My kids are on the front row at every show. It’s refreshing for the bands to see a new crop of children in the music.”
Some shows last into the wee hours of the morning as Sean shuts the metal door to the street, and the bands continue to play as loud as they want. New York City’s “Dirt Bike Annie” played Nov. 17 and immediately scheduled a future date after playing street hockey in the store with the kids after the show.
“It’s just a different environment,” Sean says. “I go to other shows and it’s just not the same. There’s something going on here.”
The Website links scheduled band’s sites, and the store continues to sell merchandise after the shows to help the bands along the way. In addition, the Website archives pictures from some shows. In this manner, the Estes hope to support the local scene and underground artists. For some artists, the Estes know that money is not as important as the opportunity to play.
“There’s shows that feed the pocketbook and shows that feed the soul,” Shoni said. “We’re one’s that feed the soul.”
Blank Generation has 12 shows scheduled for December, including a special Hanukkah show Dec. 20 featuring Jewish artists. For more information, call 501-378-PUNK or email firstname.lastname@example.org (if booking a band, it’s important that “BOOKING” is placed in the subject line). Blank Generation is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1-31, 2003 issue of the Little Rock Free Press