When Toxic Ranch Records announced the imminent closing of its longtime retail space on Sixth Street just off Fourth Avenue last fall, owner Bill Sassenberger told the Weekly that it was most likely the end of this underground institution as a physical store. But the outpouring from the music community—equal parts solidarity and fondness—plus an eleventh-hour twist of fate ensured that Toxic Ranch was only transitioning to a new space and era.
About a week before Toxic was to shut its doors, a new and more affordable location on East Broadway became available, and on New Year's Eve, at an in-store concert to celebrate what Toxic had achieved during its 25 years, the good news was made public.
Four months later, the shop is alive and well, but according to store manager Shane Muldowney, 21, and clerk Nick Cashman, 22, lots of folks don't know that Toxic remains open, let alone that it's thriving.
"We relocated mid-January and despite an online presence, not many people know we're still in business," Muldowney says. "We just want to get the word out there."
The new location, tucked away in an alley that belies its post office address of 2030 E. Broadway Blvd., is a little harder to find. But it's still a fantastic store, with significant improvements.
Cashman says that Toxic is "better stocked now than at the old location. We can afford to do better record orders now."
"We were under the impression (before the relocation) that we were closing," Muldowney adds, "so we didn't restock anything. This place kind of fell into our lap. We've been trying to play catch-up, but now we're at a point where we feel we got a lot of the essential stuff back in stock. Now we're trying to stock more current stuff, bands that are happening now.
"I love this record store but for many years it had the feel of a throwback (to '80s punk). All those records are great and we still have them," Muldowney says, but he emphasizes that Toxic places a premium on staying up to date.
Cashman and Muldowney perform in the local rock bands Ocean Void and Man Bites Dog, respectively, and are fiercely dedicated to familiarizing themselves with every recording the store carries. Cashman says that when business is slow he'll often listen to releases he hasn't yet heard to better serve both new and longtime customers.
Muldowney says, "We're definitely a destination you have to seek out (now), but I'm still surprised at how many people are becoming regular customers. ... We're able to do better business here. We don't get the same foot traffic we got when we were off of Fourth Avenue, but the rent is so cheap here that we're able (to afford ) to get in a big box of records once or twice a week. ... I'm stoked for how this place is gonna be doing six months from now."
Sassenberger, though still Toxic's owner, has taken a smaller role in the daily management of the store, and he has lots of confidence in Cashman and Muldowney, for no small reason. "We could have closed in December," Muldowney says. "But Nick and I were really gung-ho about keeping it open. Bill saw the closing of the other location as a sign that maybe we shouldn't continue; this is the time to pack it up. But this is his life's work, and he leaves it up to me and Nick to run it for him."
"Tucson really has the potential to be an incredibly interesting music town," Cashman adds. "The fact that we almost closed last year was a big wake-up call for a lot of people to not take these unique local places for granted."
Cashman and Muldowney are certainly not in it for the big bucks. "We make enough money to pay for lunch," Muldowney says. "We really just want this shop open. I've been turned on to so many records that are so important in my life, and I found them here. I want that to continue. That's why I'm doing this."