Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The holy TEE

Former church the perfect place to worship today's rock gods -- they might even show up in person

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BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Wild Planet shop in Osborne Village was the Church of Christ in its former life.

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BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Wild Planet shop in Osborne Village was the Church of Christ in its former life.

P.T. Barnum said, "There is no such thing as bad publicity" -- an adage that holds true in most circumstances.

But when you're a small business owner and you announce to the world you're going to close up shop and relocate to Vancouver because of a potential police shutdown, you should probably expect a slight dip in sales when that bit of information is splashed all over the next day's front page.

"Yeah, there is a perception in some circles that I followed through on my promise to sell and that we're no longer here," says Roman Panchyshyn, owner of Wild Planet, a pop-culture emporium at 217 Osborne St. "And OK, it might not have been the greatest response, but when (the raid) happened, I felt like somebody was hitting me over the head with a brick, and my first reaction was, 'Get me away from this insanity.' "

In March, Wild Planet was one of several Winnipeg establishments threatened with prosecution for selling drug-related paraphernalia. But after the smoke cleared and the Crown hashed things out with those involved, Panchyshyn parked his moving van and got back to work.

What bothered Panchyshyn most about the incident wasn't the hypocrisy involved, given that police officers, Crown attorneys and judges have all spent money in his store, where items such as pipes have been in plain view for years. No, what stuck in Panchyshyn's craw was turning on the TV and hearing news anchors refer to his livelihood as a head shop and nothing else.

"It was insulting. I've never considered myself a head shop; I consider myself a rock shop -- known for having one of the best selections of posters and T-shirts in North America," he says. "So when they isolated a small part of what I sell and put me strictly into the head-shop category, well, that was a bit unappreciated."

 

-- -- --

 

Now the truth can be told.

For more than three decades, Panchyshyn has been regarded as one of this city's foremost musicologists. The father of two opened Impulse Records in 1982 as an import-heavy store that catered to fans of critics' darlings such as Cabaret Voltaire and Joy Division. A couple of years later, Toronto-based Records on Wheels recruited Panchyshyn to manage its flagship Winnipeg location on Portage Avenue. And in 1989, he recorded a top-five dance-club hit of his own under the banner They Never Sleep.

So when he is asked to recall the first band he ever saw in concert, surely the answer is going to be something cool or cutting-edge, right? Wrong.

"The first show I remember going to see was the Blues Magoos, in what I'm guessing was 1966, at the old Winnipeg Arena," Panchyshyn says with a laugh. "I went with my older sister. The Magoos were opening for Herman's Hermits and the Who, but I had no interest in the other two. The Who kind of scared me, in fact, when they started smashing all their equipment at the end of their set."

Panchyshyn established Wild Planet in 1992 on the south side of Portage Avenue between Garry and Smith streets. He relocated to Donald Street in 1999, then to his current digs -- a former place of worship -- in 2008. From time to time, ex-Church of Christ parishioners poke their heads inside Wild Planet to see what he has done with the pulpit -- good luck finding it under 50 styles of Beatles shirts -- and baptismal pool.

"People think it's a bit odd that a rock shop is housed in a church, but because I come from a religious background myself, I don't see anything wrong or sacrilegious about it," says Panchyshyn, who grew up reciting the Lord's Prayer in Ukrainian at St. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral on McGregor Street. "I tell people now we're bowing down to rock gods instead."

Brent Fitz is the drummer for Slash, ex of Guns N' Roses. Fitz is also a John Taylor Collegiate graduate who is in town this weekend for that school's 50th anniversary reunion. (Saturday night, Fitz played alongside other JTC jazz-band alumni at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.)

Fitz now calls Las Vegas home, but he makes an effort to pop into Wild Planet whenever he returns to the 'Peg, he says.

"I used to go to the old store on Donald. I'd head downtown every Saturday with my best friend, Brad, and we'd hit every shop that sold comics, posters, vinyl albums and T-shirts," says Fitz, who has also drummed for the likes of Alice Cooper, Vince Neil and Harlequin. "I can't remember the first thing I bought from Roman, but I'll bet it was something Kiss-related."

Through the years, Fitz has introduced most of his bandmates to his favourite store, but so far, his current boss hasn't made it there in person.

"The rest of us stopped by two summers ago after our show (at the Burton Cummings Theatre). We bought Slash a bunch of shirts for his birthday. He's hard to shop for, but always loves a black T-shirt with something cool on it."

Last month, members of Black Sabbath's road crew headed to Wild Planet before the metal legends' show at the MTS Centre. Fitz had tipped the guys off about the store beforehand and they told him later they were "blown away" by the selection.

 

One of the toughest chores Panchyshyn faces on a day-to-day basis is deciding which acts will have staying power and which won't. A band might be on the cover of every fanzine one week, but by the time their merchandise hits his store shelves a few months later, they could be old news.

"It is a little bit like playing the stock market," Panchyshyn says, noting he never lets personal taste get in the way of bringing in, say, Justin Bieber apparel. ("He partied with Rob Ford. How bad can he be?")

"Deciding what to order and what not to is definitely harder nowadays, because taste in music changes so quickly. A band like Asking Alexandria was super-hot last fall, but by Christmas, I couldn't give their shirts away."

A trip to Wild Planet has become a rite of passage for many Winnipeggers. People who were in their teens or 20s when Panchyshyn got his start are now coming through the doors with their sons or daughters in tow. Still, it's pretty easy to spot a person visiting Wild Planet for the first time, because they're generally the ones with quizzical looks on their faces, wondering why 8,000-plus shirts are hanging from the ceiling.

"I'm probably the most unique retail concept in the world, in that you can't touch anything," Panchyshyn says in regard to his wares, which are suspended a metre or so above customers' heads and categorized in alphabetical order by acts' names. "You can see everything, but you don't have direct access to the product. But that's just part of the furniture here. I swear, some people think we're financed by the chiropractic association for all the sore necks from looking up."

Still a bit bruised from his recent go-round with the law, Panchyshyn isn't sure how many years he has left in him. But there is one aspect concerning his retirement years the ageless entrepreneur ("Dick Clark never told anybody how old he was, so why should I?") isn't concerned about.

"I always joke about being in an old folks' home somewhere and telling the person in charge, 'Don't worry about washing my stuff. I have enough shirts to last me the rest of my life.' "

 

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2014 A8

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