The name Jared and Brianne Mees gave their fledgling record label, Tender Loving Empire, back in 2006 is starting to seem prophetic. Today, the Meeses are opening their second retail location on Hawthorne, to go along with their brand new Old Town offices and an innovative, new pay-what-you-want retail platform called Generous.
Much like TLE’s downtown location, the new Hawthorne digs will sell a variety of handmade crafts, jewelry, and other products from local makers in addition to local music from both the TLE label and others. The new space, at 3541 SE Hawthorne, feels bright and expansive compared to the relatively cramped downtown location, full of whitewashed wood and crammed with trinkets large and small. A large interactive wooden sculpture, the kinks in which are still being worked out, hangs from the ceiling. See our slide show below.
Housed in the couple’s apartment and funded with savings from their tip jobs, TLE began as a vehicle to release Jared Mees’ music. But it quickly grew into something bigger than just records. The couple released comics by Jared’s old art school friends and a book of fiction, among other things, and after about a year decided it was time to open a retail store. “Being able to run a store and a record label, and having that symbiosis between the two, makes it a lot more manageable than only doing records,” says Jared, sitting in his new store looking tired but proud of his work. (Read more about their start in our 2011 profile.)
The Grand Opening of Tender Loving Empire’s Hawthorne location, 3541 SE Hawthorne, is Thursday, Dec. 4 from 6–10pm.
Featuring acoustic sets from Y La Bamba’s Luz Elena Mendoza, Loch Lomond’s Ritchie Young, and AAN’s Bud Wilson, as well as food truck snacks, Fort George Brewery beer, and raffles for TLE merch on the half hour.
Both sides of the venture proved successful: expansion to a bigger downtown storefront came in 2010, and TLE bands like Typhoon, Radiation City, and Y La Bamba have seen significant exposure on the national stage. Indeed, Typhoon recently capped off a national tour behind their heartfelt and widely appealing 2013 effort White Lighter with an appearance on Letterman.
“We always wanted another store,” says Jared. “I want a millions stores, I want one everywhere.” This time, though, the goal is a little different. Whereas the downtown store caters mostly to tourists, the couple hopes the Hawthorne store will attract Portland locals.
That’s not to say the out-of-town business hasn’t been good for the label and their artists, he’s quick to add. “We get lots of different people coming through, lots of serendipitous encounters with different musician: Neko Case came in and bought a Y La Bamba CD randomly and then took them on tour with her three times.”
The new location comes hot on the heels of another promising expansion, one that’s already attracting national and international buzz and speaks to the loving part of the TLE name: a pay-what-you-want e-commerce platform called Generous. Taking Bandcamp and Etsy to the altruistic level with products ranging from music to books to handmade goods, the project’s name refers to the fact that a percentage of the proceeds from every purchase benefits a charity of the seller’s choice. Sellers set the minimum and a suggested price for the product and the percentage they donate. Buyers then choose any price above the minimum using intuitive sliders, with higher prices often including extra items a la the Kickstarter model.
The idea for a pay-what-you-want platform rose out of the experience of TLE bands selling music and merch on tour—or not. “They’d be frustrated sometimes when they’d play a show and people would be super into it and go look at the merch table, but then just leave [without buying anything],” Jared recalls. Several of the bands tried asking people to simply name a price they thought was fair. “Some people would pay a dollar, but others would pay 20 or even 100 if they really loved it. They started doing a lot more volume, and we didn’t have a bunch of CDs rotting away in boxes.”
Attaching that commerce model to charitable giving came later. “We wanted to be able to give to charity at the same time as we bought stuff we loved,” Jared says, but he admits the real impetus is a bit more complicated: as it turns out, there’s significant evidence that combining charity with name-your-price models is actually a savvy business move. A few years ago, Jared came across an University of California study in which researchers offered a product one day on a pay-what-you-want basis, and another day as pay-what-you-want with the promise that half the proceeds went to charity. While less people bought the product on the charity day, the average price they paid was so much higher that overall profits significantly increased (check out the study here).
The folks at TLE are clearly and commendably all-in: the entire TLE web store is using the platform, including their newest release, PDXMAS, out today, with songs by local artists and all proceeds going to MercyCorps NW. Local acts that aren’t on the label, ranging from the world-pop of Pink Martini to the distortion-drenched Weezer-worship of Your Rival, have also begun offering music through Generous. Even international names like Russell Brand have signed on.
It’s all the work of a growing Portland business that’s well aware that traditional record label models aren’t viable in the Internet’s age of downloadable music. “I don’t tend to see it as piracy, I think that’s just a made up word that big corporations invented when their profits started getting eaten away,” Jared says. “Ultimately, digital music is by its very nature free, because it’s copyable infinitely.” When you’re selling something that’s free, injecting a little philanthropy into consumer culture doesn’t sound so crazy.
Be the first to see the new store with our slide show: