Over the years, businesses have come and gone in Seymour, but one “fiercely independent” record store has beat the odds and done so for more than 20 years in unapologetic fashion.
In the mid to late 90s, 13th Floor Music became more than a place for local teenagers to pick up a copy of the new Rage Against the Machine or Foo Fighters album.
The store became a destination for self-discovery taken through the spins of a turntable.
Kids and young adults were schooled in underground music — those artists and sounds that were outside and beyond mainstream culture. Serving as the teacher in this school of rock was Bret Daugherty.
It was in the early part of the ’90s when Daugherty, a 1988 Seymour High School graduate, quit his job working at a local car dealership. Although he loved cars and had a college degree in automotive technology from Indiana State University, he didn’t love the business.
He walked out and thought about what he enjoyed as much as cars. The answer was music.
At that time, music was a booming business, and there were a couple of “record stores,” in Seymour, including Karma Music in Jackson Park Shopping Center, where Daugherty ended up getting a job.
When it was obvious that business wasn’t going to stick around, Daugherty decided his dream was to open his own record store and keep it going longer than all of the others.
To get a loan, he wrote out a business plan to submit to the bank. He then opened 13th Floor Music in November 1995 behind what’s now Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty on East Tipton Street.
After being at that location for six years, he got the opportunity to move to a bigger location in August 2001 at 111 N. Chestnut St. in downtown Seymour. He outlasted the competition and eventually was the only record store left in Seymour.
As the kids who shopped at 13th Floor grew up, many continued to patronize the store to buy CDs and yes, vinyl, to pet Earl, the fat gray cat who often slept on the front counter, but more so for Daugherty’s sarcastic wit, brutal honesty and music recommendations.
On Fridays and Saturdays, it wasn’t uncommon to find several people just hanging out, some joining Daugherty behind the counter, others standing in front, moving aside to let customers make their purchases. Those people were often on 13th Floor Music’s Top 13 Customers of the Year list, which he kept posted in the store.
The music, the store and the 13th Floor Music family were Daugherty’s life, which he compared to the John Cusack movie “High Fidelity.” He often said he had no “Plan B,” even though record stores began to close with the era of digital music and downloading.
In September 2017, Daugherty was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. It had already metastasized and was in his liver, lungs and lymph nodes, but he didn’t let cancer get in the way of what was important to him.
Other than having to close for doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy or when he was in the hospital, Daugherty kept 13th Floor Music open with help from his friends, including best friend Mark Allman, love, Jenny Ray, and employee Chad Zimmerman.
Although doctors had first given him five years to live, the cancer was aggressive. In the early morning hours of June 12, less than a year after being diagnosed, Daugherty, 48, took his last breath peacefully while at home.
A community of friends and customers grieved the loss of their music mentor, taking to Facebook to share pictures and memories of Daugherty and leaving flowers at the door of the business.
Friend Andy Dorsett, who now lives in California, said Bret made a difference in Seymour, leaving a lasting impression on many.
“He singlehandedly brought culture back to Seymour,” Dorsett said. “He gave my generation, and those following, an outlet. He was a dear friend, a mentor, a teacher. He taught us how to question and fight back. He taught us to always fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. He showed us what was right and just.”
One of Daugherty’s best friends and former store employee, James Thompson of Seymour, said not everyone was lucky enough to get to know Daugherty the way he did.
“Bret had a self-proclaimed ‘sandpaper personality,’ but if you took the time to break past that gruff exterior, inside was a kind, thoughtful, generous and fiercely loyal friend,” Thompson said. “He let me in his inner circle, and it was a fantastic place to be. He gave me a job, gave me countless mountains of music, was my best man at my wedding … he was my family.”
Many people wondered what would happen to the dream Daugherty had built in 13th Floor now that he was gone.
The answer came the morning after Daugherty died when Allman opened the doors for business. Although there are obstacles to overcome in taking over 13th Floor Music, Allman and Ray agreed it’s what Daugherty would want.
Allman met Daugherty when he worked at Karma. They became fast friends and eventually were more like brothers.
Ray was a customer of 13th Floor Music when she was in high school. Four years ago, she and Daugherty began dating. They both agreed they had found their soulmates in each other.
“I will miss his witty sarcasm, his sweet texts and falling asleep next to him,” Ray said. “I was looking forward to growing old with Bret. In the four years we were together, I experienced so much. My favorite quote from his was, ‘What a plot twist you were.’”
Ray said music can help heal and bring everyone together to love and cherish memories of Daugherty.
“I’m going to continue to listen to music to get through this,” she said.
It’s not going to be easy to continue the business without Daugherty, and it’s going to take the support of all his friends, music lovers and the community, Allman said.
“I don’t think Bret realized how much people in this town loved him,” Allman said. “I’m going to do my best to keep it open for him.”