Former Teacher Explores Love Of Heavy Metal With Wichita Record Store The Gate
Russell Horning began his journey as an educator in Mexico.
Then, after teaching high school and middle school in Wichita, he decided to make a career change.
Wichitan Russell Horning opened The Gate record store in May 2021.
Located at 115 S. Pattie, the shop serves as Wichita's home for heavy metal records. It's stocked with a vast array of classic metal albums — looking for Ozzy Osbourne's long out-of-print Speak of the Devil? Horning has it — as well as new stock from around the globe.
The Gate feels less like a retail space and more like a friend's living room. There are classic metal books and magazines on sale as well as the types of rarities only a true fan would take the time to notice.
Horning's road to opening the shop is an unlikely one. After teaching English for nearly 20 years, he decided to follow his passion for heavy metal and create a space that is uniquely his own and which seems poised to become a destination for metal fans in the region.
Horning recently spoke with KMUW about his career as an educator and, now, a retailer.
Your journey to opening this store is a pretty interesting one because you had a different career path.
I've been in education for 18 years and that's always been incredibly rewarding. The reason that I wanted to get into education was because I saw immediately that it was rewarding. I can see kind of a light when people were learning things. I got into education in Mexico. I was down there, spending some time, and wondered, "What am I going to do for work?" I saw that there were different English institutes. I thought, "Well, maybe I could wing that." I didn't have to have a degree in education to teach there. I didn't have that background, but from the first day, seeing that people were grateful and excited about learning English, I was hooked.
What was your educational path once you came back to the United States?
I was in Mexico for five years. I taught at a Catholic high school, and I taught at an English institute. Wonderful experiences. I really loved their approach on education and how they treat people. It was about treating the soul first and then education comes second. I've always taken that to heart. So, when I came back to the United States, I knew that I had to go back to school. I went to college for a year after high school and studied philosophy but I didn't know what to do with it. When I came back to the United States, I was completely driven and took nine classes for five years and got my degree from WSU. I taught at North High School for 11 years, and I taught at Wilbur Middle School for the last three years.
What was it like to become a full-time teacher after that initial spark you had in Mexico?
Kids are kids, and they're wonderful and so honest and sincere. Working with kids anywhere is great. You have to take into account that they are kids, and kids behave like kids. You have to know what you can control and what you can't control. Not letting certain things get you down was something that I always took account of. I always enjoyed it, even when times were difficult, or the behavior from students was difficult. That all comes from somewhere and you know, I never judged anyone. The reward for a lot of teachers is seeing the kids grow up and seeing them a year or two later, or seeing them graduate from college.
Where did the heavy metal journey begin for you?
When I was young, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, all of those bands were prominent and mainstream to the point of being on the radio all the time. My brothers listened to Quiet Riot and bands of that nature. I always enjoyed the guitar, drums, bass, the riffs, the vocals, the energy, the emotion. [Eventually], I started finding bands that weren't as poppy, not as mainstream, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, King Diamond, those kinds of bands are what really hooked me [and helped me to discover] this world. But I do think that those other bands were kind of that gateway for me to discover that that's one of the reasons that I went with The Gate on the name because there have been different bands and different experiences and that have developed into opening doors to this kind of a world.
Where did the idea for the store come from? Were you selling online?
I've sold online for the last few years. I started selling some things and noticed different markets and started feeling more confident about how to evaluate and grade records. I was in my basement and it was getting cluttered and I needed a bit more room. I was getting tired of sending stuff off to New York, California, Texas, over and over. I knew that if I had a storefront that people not only would appreciate it, but they'd love it because great music is great music. I thought people would come out of the woodwork and that people would surprise me. That's definitely been the case.
One thing about this store is that — and this term gets overused — but the stock is very carefully curated.
I really want to have things that you're not going to see in other stores. I really think about the selections a lot. With the new stuff, I'm trying to find things that I think are great and using my taste [in considering what to sell]. A lot of [the used] pieces are things that came from my collection. I'm also hunting, looking, talking with old friends, seeing if there's anything I could trade for. [Sometimes] it's just something I want to have in the store because it'll be a great piece.
One of the things I enjoyed about record stores is that they were always social hubs. I might see a person with a backpatch on their jacket and say, "Hey, you like Metal Church too?" It was the start of a conversation and sometimes deep friendships.
I hope that it is a hub. I hope that people are able to relate to one another. It seems to me that when people come in here, they feel very comfortable and that it's like their place.