For those who don’t know, a head shop is a store that sells smoking paraphernalia. We began Wonderwall Records in the small back room of a head shop called The Golden Door on the east side of Indianapolis. When the store owner, Bobby, wouldn’t renew our lease at the end of six months, we assumed the lease of an abandoned linen shop a few doors down the short strip mall.
One traumatic night I witnessed Bobby being shot to the ground by men who were later identified as FBI. Apparently, he was a drug dealer they had been watching for some time. After Bobby went to jail The Golden Door was forced to close, and we were put in the precarious position of sending our customers down the street to a competing record store where they could buy their pipes, papers, bongs and roach clips. It quickly became obvious that we would not survive without adding those items to our store inventory. Ironically, while we were dedicated to selling music at the lowest price possible, we had no reservations about making obscene profits on this other merchandise.
We were able to operate our store with the social ideals we espoused. Nobody worked a forty hour work week because we thought people needed to have a life beyond their job. We provided health insurance for all full time (35 hour) employees, one’s birthday was a paid holiday, and vacation was allotted as one week after one year of service, two weeks after two, and three weeks after three. We had very little employee turnover, and kept most of the same staff from 1973-1983.
Since our store was located in close proximity to Fort Benjamin Harrison, we had a steady flow of customers from the Army base where my brother and I had lived as children in the base mobile home park. The GIs from the fort bought mass quantities of records and cassettes, but they were also shopping for gifts to send their girlfriends back home.
One day a paraphernalia salesman opened his catalog to a selection of vibrators, thumb cuffs, Joy Jelly, and “dicks on a stick” in white or dark chocolate. When I asked why he would be selling such things he replied, “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, Joyce.” I could see the logic in his thinking. There were strip clubs a few miles from our store. Between the club dancers and the GIs, we learned there was actually a demand for this merchandise. We wanted to sell all of these and the smoking paraphernalia out of the sight of children and minors who came in for music, so we built a separate room at the back of the store which employees referred to among ourselves as The Smoke ‘n’ Poke. On a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, I encountered a sign that reminded me of those Wonderwall days.