Talk of the Town - Building a business September 18 2003

160,000 records, plywood and carpet samples in the West End

The first memory most people have about Gavin Frederick involves buying records from him. For over a decade, Gavin has supplied Atlanta with the rare and obscure gems of punk and hardcore music. Now operating Stickfigure Distribution, he took his business from house shows in Grant Park and forged an international wholesale and mail order company that stocks up to 160,000 records and eats about 80 hours of his time each week. What profit he makes he pumps back into the Stickfigure record label, which has released records by The Hal al Shedad, Milemarker and The Party of Helicopters.

To house this minor empire, Frederick needs space. Years ago, he moved to the Candler Smith Historic Warehouse District, a decrepit 38-acre complex in the West End reopened as loft spaces in 1997. Arriving to a naked storage facility of 2,700 square feet, Frederick and three roommates built two floors of private bedrooms, a recording studio and an office space from plywood and carpet samples. While the interior feels a tad shantytown, one cannot argue with the price; for less than $400 a month, Frederick can live and run his business. Best of all, there's no commute.

Creative Loafing: So when did you move in here?

Gavin Frederick: September of '97... Oh my god, I've been here for six years.

There's no laws about running a business out of here?

No, although it is kind of lawless around here. The kind of people who move in here want a lot of space cheap to be in bands or do sculpting; having a nice place to live is not the priority. But I don't recommend moving in here just for cheap rent.

What was this complex before you moved in?

It was a bankrupt property. It was built in the early 1900s and it was the premier warehouse complex in Atlanta. General Motors, Rich's, Sears — all those big companies had huge spaces here, like 50,000 to 100,000 square feet. Really, the downfall of this complex, from a business standpoint, was everything went to 18-wheelers. You can't get big trucks in here to the units. And it was built so long ago, you couldn't adapt it.

How do you do with Stickfigure?

I do all right. I'm not doing crazy good, but I'm not eating ramen. I have some money. I might buy my own warehouse. Maybe in west Atlanta, out near the sewage treatment plants.

Come again?

Think about it, man. West Atlanta, what's out there? There's train yards, sewage treatment plants, the waterworks and random houses. If you buy a building out there, you can just have wacky parties and it'll be mayhem. And nobody's going to care because who goes out there? It's just this barren, pseudo wasteland between Smyrna and Atlanta.

Could you ever move back to a normal-sized house?

Real house? Phft! Should I get a real house or should I spend that money to put out wacky records?

And how long have you been running Stickfigure?

Since 1998. Oh my god, it's been five years.