The State Theatre marquee notes its birthday. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Two of Maine’s most recognized and, dare I say, legendary music-related businesses are celebrating huge birthdays this year. As a giant fan of both, I invite you to raise a glass, or better yet pump a fist, in celebration of the 30th birthday of Bull Moose and the 90th anniversary of the opening of Portland’s State Theatre.

My first show at the State was on June 25, 1994, when I saw Tori Amos from the front row. Much of my massive collection of Amos CDs and vinyl is from Bull Moose stores. I imagine many of you also have happy music memories of shopping at Bull Moose and seeing shows at the State. Who else joyfully raced into a Bull Moose store on the day of an album release from a favorite artist? Who else counted the days until a concert with wild anticipation? Who still does both?

Throwback photo of Chris Brown (left) and Brett Wickard at the Bull Moose Scarborough store in 2003. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Illinois native Brett Wickard is the president of Bull Moose, though he hates job titles. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1990 with a degree in chemistry because he wanted to make a more efficient, environmentally friendly catalytic converter. Wickard learned, however, that most of the research at the time was happening in Japan, and he didn’t want to move. So instead, after learning that a record store in Cook’s Corner went out of business, he decided to open one of his own soon after finishing his junior year. This was in July of 1989. In 1992, the North Windham shop opened and, two years later, came Portland. Today, there are 10 Bull Moose locations in Maine and two in New Hampshire. The company employs about 200 people, including Wickard’s longtime friend, fellow Bowdoin alum and Bull Moose chief financial officer Chris Brown, who came up with the brilliant idea of Record Store Day.

Why the name Bull Moose? Wickard told me he liked that it sounded different. It was also the name of both the track and drinking clubs he was a member of at Bowdoin. Another option briefly considered was Wickards Wecords. Good call on choosing Bull Moose.

Wickard said, when he first opened the store in Brunswick, cassettes were the best-selling format. CDs were still fairly new, and he described the vinyl at the time as “thin and horrible.” Fast-forward (pun intended) 30 years, and cassettes are long obsolete (though a few artists still release them), CD sales have dropped drastically primarily due to streaming music services and fancier, heavier vinyl continues to enjoy a resurgence. All the while, Wickard and Brown have done a commendable job of reading the tea leaves, keeping consumers interested in shopping at Bull Moose by adding things like movies, video games, trading cards and books to their inventory.

Both Wickard and Brown love their jobs immensely and neither one of them said anything about money or sales when they spoke about it. Wickard’s satisfaction comes from being around people who are passionate about the arts, both employees and fans of Bull Moose. “We get to work around fascinating people every day,” he said.

What Brown enjoys most is seeing other people grow in their jobs. “You can see the spark in some people. I’ve come to really enjoy seeing people succeed.” Brown also praised Wickard for his hiring practices early on. “Brett was really good at giving people a chance to run things who maybe wouldn’t have had that chance somewhere else.”

The other giant feather in Bull Moose’s cap is the unbelievable amount of in-store artist performances that have happened. Wickard’s favorite was by Barenaked Ladies at the North Windham location. “It was early on, they just had one album out and they were the nicest people, incredibly kind.” Brown’s pick was the 2009 performance at the Scarborough location by Ani DiFranco. It was so good that Brown told me he contemplated quitting his job that day. “I was like that’s it, that’s my career, I’ve reached my pinnacle and nothing’s gonna beat this.”  DiFranco’s six-song set was so good that it was released as a live EP, and I should know because I was there and can see myself on the cover of it.

English band Mumford & Sons perform at the Bullmoose Music store in Scarborough on Aug. 3, 2012. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Happy Birthday, Bull Moose! I’ve spent thousands of dollars at your stores since I moved to Maine 25 years ago, and every nickel has been worth it.

The story of the State Theatre is one with several twists and turns, which includes changes in ownership and a run as an adult cinema in the 1970s and ’80s.

Rustic Overtones cd release concert, State Theatre, 11/22/97 David MacDonald/Staff Photographer

It all began on Nov. 8, 1929, when it opened as a private movie theater and screened “The Trespasser” starring Gloria Swanson. More than three decades of showing Hollywood movies, along with some staged productions, followed, but then the theater changed hands and, by the ’60s, was operating as an X-rated movie house before being sold again and finally becoming a music venue in 1993. Rustic Overtones played a huge show there in 1997. Bob Dylan played there several times. But, in 2006, the theater closed again and its future was uncertain.

Fans cheer on Morrissey during the third song of his concert at the State Theater “Everyday is Like Sunday,” on , Oct. 15, 2012. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The fall of 2010 brought it with the triumphant re-opening of the State Theatre with a sold-out show on Oct. 15 by My Morning Jacket. The theater is owned by Crobo LLC, who also owns Port City Music Hall. Lauren Wayne has been the theater’s general manager since the re-opening and counts that October show as one of her favorites. She also rattled off Emmylou Harris in 2011, David Byrne & St. Vincent in 2013, M.I.A. in 2014, Wilco in 2016 and Maggie Rogers this year as other memorable ones.

To celebrate its birthday, the State Theatre recently ran a scavenger hunt-type contest via its Instagram page with the grand prize of a $1,000 gift certificate.  The theater will be closed for a few weeks in January but for a good reason: The balcony will undergo a full renovation. It’s also worth noting that, last year, the marquee of the theater was restored to its original glory. Seeing it lit up at night is a thrill every single time.

May, 21, 1950 : Child at the box office for the Kiddies Show at State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland. Press Herald photo courtesy Portland Public Library Special Collections and Archives

I consider you one of my second homes, State Theatre. I’ve lost track of how many shows I’ve seen there since 1994, but I’ll always love you for Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Damien Rice, David Byrne, Sigur Ros, Brandi Carlile, Indigo Girls, David Gray, Fiona Apple, Neko Case and about a million others. Happy 90th birthday!

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