National Lampoon magazine once singled it out as having the worst name for a business ever, and in 2010 Ringo Starr wore the store’s brand on a T-shirt to the Grammy Awards. With a name like the Electric Fetus, it’s no wonder the quirky among us are proud to fly its flag.
When it opened its first store in Minneapolis in 1968 hundreds of people made their way through the doors within hours. And to this day people still flock to this independent music, fashion and gift store in Duluth and Minneapolis.
Launched on the West Bank at the University of Minnesota campus by Keith Covart and two partners, it was the perfect concept, the perfect young college community and the perfect times — when the country was in the midst of extreme change, cultural revolution and the coming of age for hippies.
Legend has it the original Electric Fetus was as much of a cultural experiment as a retail establishment – one that frequently fanned its middle finger at just that – The Establishment.
One of the owners was once given a citation for refusing to take down a drawn, caricature poster of John and Yoko’s Two Virgins with Richard and Pat Nixon’s faces on the bodies. Another owner was arrested for having a peace flag in the store window.
Customers would often find the front counter vacant except for a note asking patrons to leave the money for what they took by the register. And then of course, there was the Streaker’s Sale, in which customers were allowed to take all that they could carry for free as long as they shopped in the buff.
Today some of the anti-establishment vibe has left the building, but that name still grabs you – the Electric Fetus.
Stephanie Covart Meyerring, daughter of founder Keith Covart and today’s second-generation owner, says that name made a lot of sense in 1968. “The word electric was used a lot. The word fetus was also being used a lot, and the name was sure to spark fast. Now we find it to be a proper name as the organization did grow.”
When National Lampoon magazine singled the store out for having the worst name for a business, their success was sealed: no one forgets the name.
But if the name sparked the success it’s really the philosophy that keeps fanning the flames, now 48 years later.
“From day one of opening, The Fetus connected with the community,” Stephanie says. “There weren’t many alternative places to shop back then. Large commercial entities were running the music scene and there wasn’t a niche for independent music.”
So the original store opened with a small initial inventory of pre-recorded music and local artisan gift items.
“We brought in what our customers wanted to buy. And by doing this we learned a lot from them. Customers really built the stores to what they are, and continue to do so. It has become our company philosophy to listen to what customers want,” she says.
Stephanie also credits the employees who consistently keep up with current trends, attend conferences and go on buying trips throughout the U.S., and build relationships with local artists and communities.
The Duluth store is located on the corner of Lake and Superior in historic downtown Duluth. The building was opened in September 1987 by Keith Covart who by then was the sole owner of the Electric Fetus. The building was renovated in 2004-05 and again in 2013 but the creaky wooden floors, aromas of scented incense and oils and the funky environment remain intact, along with a staff well known for their range of broad music expertise.
There is Rock, Pop, R&B,Soul, Rap,Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz and Electronic, Dance—and staff who can talk the talk. Teens to Boomers and beyond frequent this store, some who live in the area and some just passing through.
Products and inventory
Along with the extensive collection of music, including vinyl, which has made a resurgence and used product (CD, LP, DVD), the Duluth store is known for its boutique-style clothing, jewelry and accessories.
“Being a boutique, that means we only generally carry small lines and only bring in a limited selection of items in all sizes, creating a unique and one-of-a- kind product mix,” Stephanie says. “That makes the Duluth store a standout for fashion shopping and gifts in the area, and it allows people to have that special one-of- a-kind item.”
For more information visit electricfetus.com.