In 1996, Wayne Williams took a leap of faith.
It wasn't that he started a business. It was that he started a business with relatively no financial backing, no inventory and not much of a business plan, other than what he and his girlfriend had dreamed up and an empty shop space. They had fallen in love there (before, when it was a coffee shop) and he had proposed to her there.
And they were young and childless, so one might deduce that youthful optimism was the driving force behind the effort.
Stacey Williams says her husband began his Meridian Underground Music business with his personal collection of 250 CDs. He says it was more like 230. But it really doesn't matter. “Our first week in business we made $50,” Wayne says. “People would bring in two CDs and trade for one.”
In those days, the shop was located next to the old Peavey Melody Music Building, just across from The Meridian Star. Wayne had hosted a local television show, The Wild Side With Wayne, with Saturday Night Live type comedy skits and music. And he had launched and published the statewide magazine Fame. The music store was the next chapter in their lives.
“His parents donated some arts and crafts for the cause,” Stacey recalls. “We had one tapestry and one display of incense sticks. When one item sold, we bought another two, until eventually we got where we are now.”
Which is a far cry from 1996.
These days, Wayne and Stacey have been married for 21 years and operate the sub-cultural MUM from a newer and larger location around the corner from the original 22nd Avenue shotgun building. The recent acquisition of an adjacent building and a remodel has expanded the store, packed with musical instruments, amplifiers, speakers, t-shirts, figurines, tapestries, tobacco-related products, skateboards, jewelry, stickers, lighters, accessories, gaming, vaping supplies, albums, record players, hair dye – and an ample incense supply. With their MUM branding now on many items – everything from a t-shirt line to skateboards – the store has also grown to offer an online shop. Both have become a nationally recognized brand for independent musicians, artists and fans.
In 1990, when Rhigel, their first child was born, Stacey gave up her job at a local bank and joined her husband at the shop full-time. Three years later, Rhigel's brother, Dyson, came along. And in two more years, Jayden, a baby sister, was born.
“We always wanted to have our kids with us, and we didn't want them in the school system. There would be times when I was bottle feeding and ringing up customers. It got easier after I stopped nursing,” Stacey laughs.
For the first few years, playpens and baby walkers dotted the floor space of the shop. As the children grew, so did the sophistication of their toys, and these days, Rhigel, Dyson and Jayden have joined their parents in the entrepreneurship adventure. As Wayne says, “We wanted to be with them all day, every day, to give them an added boost in life, a prosperous life with a strong base. I want them to understand how to create something from nothing.”
It might be easy to assume, with Stacey's muti-colored hair and Wayne's long locks, that this couple is a quirky pair of hippies. “We're far from what society considers normal,” Stacey says. “Our kids are intelligent and open-minded. And homeschooling has limited a lot of negative aspects that children get in public school, like bullying and peer pressure. We want them to explore their own identities.”
Not far from the sandwich and drink refrigerators, Rhigel mans a 3-D printer. Using spools of colored plastic, he programs his designs on a computer and waits for the printer to finish the task. “It started out as a hobby, and now I do it on the side for a little money here, a little fun there,” the 17-year-old says. In the meantime, he's selling ads for his own magazine, The Cheat Sheet, a locally-driven product designed to boost small business revenue, and for fun “I melt aluminum on the weekends.”
And as if that isn't enough, he's also logged 40 hours of flight instruction toward his private pilot license. "I've always had a little fascination with flying," he says.
At age 14, Dyson has officially become one of Apple's youngest registered app developers. He's undecided if he will be a physicist as he's always planned, or be a professional gamer. Wayne offers his opinion to the youngster. “The most famous YouTube gamer makes $5 million a year,” Dyson counters. “They record their games and monetize their channels.”
But Wayne isn't taking the bait. He hands off the conversation to the piano and voice teacher who has just arrived. School starts as soon as the family arrives at the 8th Street business at 8:30 each morning. By noon, Stacey has cooked lunch in a semi-apartment concealed at the rear of the shop. This is also where she manages the store's books. By noon, extracurricular activities begin.
Like her brothers, Jayden is undecided if homeschooling has an added disadvantage to the social life of a teenager. “I spend more time with adults than children, and children understand more than adults do,” she says. Her bright, multi-colored hair is woven in a braid. Her eyes look to the ceiling, left, then right, as she decides if she would rather be a fashion designer or a
veterinarian. “I'm having my first sleepover tonight,” she interjects, forgetting the discussion of her love of horses. At 12, Jayden designs and sells her own jewelry line at the shop. She also sculpts “animals, robots and Santa bears, from clay.” She loves the country and going to church at New Beginning Christian Fellowship. Her brothers, she says, attend First Baptist.
Wayne is tasked most recently with launching an independent recording studio for both audio and video, also at the shop. It is one of the more recent projects he's developed in a community outreach effort. As they begin MUM's 21st anniversary celebration, a quick look around the store is a testament to the family's achievements. They offer live music once a month, singer/songwriter and poetry night, Art Night in which a local art teacher volunteers her time to teach, Tai Chi Night, Game Night with flat panel TVs for gaming stations, or Game Night with cards, and more.
Or, customers can simply “hang out,” Wayne says. “It's a space they can come to in the heart of the city where they feel comfortable – like a living room at someone's house. They can have coffee, popcorn, play pool or chess. We have customers from all walks of life. We have people who come in for 2, 3, 4 hours just looking through records. It's an easy place to hang out.”