Owner of Kevin's World moves away from pop-up retail

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 | 5:09 p.m. CST; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
Kevin Walsh stands in his empty store on Ninth Street, Kevin's World, which he closed after being open 18 months. Walsh wants to be remembered for his experiment in retail and bringing people together. He now works for the State Historical Society as a security guard. He also is a member of its program committee.

COLUMBIA — An arm-wrestling tournament, Al Gore watch parties, Twilight Festival barbecues, True/False Film Festival events and a place for conversations: These were all on a long list of functions Kevin’s World served during its 18-month stint at 26 N. Ninth St. In October, owner Kevin Walsh closed the store, but he promises this will not be the last Columbia sees of Kevin’s World.

With his pop culture paraphernalia stored at home, Walsh’s career has taken a rather sharp turn. The 54-year-old now works as a security guard at the State Historical Society of Missouri, where he also serves as a member of the program committee to integrate his interest in culture, commerce and history. Walsh said he loves his new job because he supports its mission.

An integral part of Columbia’s music scene, Walsh can still be heard on his KOPN/89.5 FM radio show “The ‘Good’ Life” every Wednesday, when listeners can hear a sampling of Walsh’s musical tastes and receive some insight into his vast knowledge of music.

The store’s closing has added another empty storefront to the Ninth Street block between Broadway and Walnut Street. Two other businesses, Trattoria Strada Nova and Cucina Sorella, are also empty, though Smokin’ Chicks BBQ will soon open at the former location of Cucina Sorella.

Walsh said the end of his retail experiment was inevitable. When he opened the eclectic music store in May 2006, he said he had no intention of keeping it open for an extended period of time. Walsh likes to call the concept behind Kevin’s World “pop-up retail,” a term describing a store open only for short bursts, “popping up” in various locations over time.

“It was more of an installation than a retail enterprise,” said Walsh, who was a manager at Streetside Records for 25 years before starting his own business.

Walsh said he had lost faith in the music industry and hoped to bring a personal element back to retail by introducing clientele to throwback concepts like running a tab and haggling.

Special ordering items, giving out his cell phone number to visitors and sending text messages to clientele all became part of establishing his personal relationships with customers. Many people would drop off artifacts they felt the store should have.

“It’s just so personalized. You go in and talk music with Kevin,” store regular Eric Gerdemann said. “He let you listen to music in the store. He wanted you to leave with what you wanted.”

Richard King, a longtime friend and owner of The Blue Note, described Walsh as a “great ambassador for music.”

“He always stuck a great CD of music in my pocket when I left,” King said. “He’s been that kind of person from the very beginning.”

Without the storefront, Walsh keeps Kevin’s World alive through his online Web site,, which provides a variety of resources that includes lists of recently released albums, reviews of some of his favorite artists and even an unsung heroes page where readers can vote on their most missed lesser-known Columbia resident after reading a short description about the individual.

“The whole concept is floating, and I will revisit it at another time. I mean, it’s basically my living room,” Walsh said. “You will see it pop up again in the future.”

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