Front Range Vinyl Hop: Bart’s Record Shop (Boulder, Colorado)
No, there is no shortage of good music here!
Here in the Front Range, east of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, are cities with bustling record shop culture. In Colorado, our first stop for digging is in beautiful Boulder: a new-agey mountain town heavily populated with college students, yogis, techies and outdoorsmen. Bart’s Record Shop, home of jazz, soul, reggae, blues, rock, pop, punk, country, folk, bluegrass, hip hop, new age, world, was started by original owner Bart Stinchcomb, and has been a stable of Boulder for 27 years.
For this interview, I visited the current owner of Bart’s, Will Paradise, and talked shop with him over a steamy cup of ginger soy chai. “It’s Friday, and all kinds of new releases are out—an exciting day!”
――So what are the new releases today?
The big one for me is the Dylan one. The outtakes from Blood On The Tracks—it's the 14th in the bootleg series—there are different takes, and recordings between the songs where he is talking—it's like the quintessential record for me.
――Tell me about Bart’s Record Shop.
Back in the early '80s, Boulder had more record stores per capita than any place in the United States. There were about 18 or 19 record stores here in this small town, and the population was probably only about 60,000 at that point…. Now there are two independent record stores here. This is our 4th location; we have been here for 3 1/2 years. The original big store was on Pearl Street, and now it's more than four times to rent there!
――You bought it from Bart when he was at this location.
He ended up getting this site after he got flooded. 6 months after he moved into here, I took over and then bought it a couple months later. He was looking to move back East and things just worked out. The stars aligned and everything happened, and he was like: “I am moving!”
―― So, how did this all begin for you, Will?
Well, I am 58 and I grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. My mom used to play music in the house, and some music really stayed with me: The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, and The Mamas & the Papas—that was the music that I really liked. Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand—not so much. [Chuckles.] Then I remember hearing The Beatles, and it was clearly music that my parents did not like: it was a disruption of their normal life and it was turning the music world on its ear. My parents were clearly not into The Beatles and I was. They are talking to me and they are not talking to my parents! That was early on: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Ticket to Ride, and Day Tripper. So from age seven until The Beatles broke up—The Beatles were god—they were the most amazing people on the planet to me. Now it's funny—to come full circle—and I am still listening to The Beatles and I still have my original records and posters.
I started collecting records when I was eight. I had an uncle that was into stereo equipment and world music, so I got into stereo equipment that way. He also had extensive global music stuff all indexed and on vinyl, tape, 8-track, and reel-to-reel. This is in the '60s and early '70s, so he was a big part of it, but I think, single handedly, it was listening to The Beatles. That was it. They were talking to me.
I started working at 14 so I could buy: 1-records and 2-stereo. By 18, I was working fulltime and had a big stereo and a lot of records. I just continued buying records and stereo equipment.
――What led you to own a record shop?
I retired from my other job—I worked at Whole Foods for a very long time—and I was looking for something to do, and I was a customer at Bart’s. Bart was going to move, and like I said, the stars aligned. I have been working in retail since '82 and I am really into service. I just felt like there is a great opportunity to create a space for people to come in that was about service. I don't care if you buy anything—I love talking to people—a lot of people would come in everyday and just talk. They are so knowledgeable about music and so I am constantly learning stuff and I am interacting with people about things I really love.
I also wanted to have an organized and clean store that was all about the people who came in, and I thought, well that is easy to do. In three years, we have doubled our sales. I know it's boom time for vinyl and all, but we have made a conscious effort of really targeting our customers and taking care of them. Pulling stuff aside for them, texting them pictures of stuff, you know, that kind of thing—who does that? It's just fun. I love music, so.
――Who is your clientele?
You know, the 80/20 rule is pretty ubiquitous in business. So, 80% of our business is done by 20% of our customers—we know those folks by name! Our customers are 90% male somewhere between 35-75. You got a university and a tech industry here, and so, people are coming and going every single year, but really, there is a hard-core group of people that stay with us. We get some college students, but a lot of them don't want to own music.
Talking to a lot of these customers, they say something like, "You know this is my fourth time I'm buying Sgt. Pepper in my life! I bought the record when it came out, I bought the cassette of it later so I had it in my car, I bought the CD of it later, and now here I am again—back into vinyl and I am buying this record for the fourth time!" That's common. A lot of people are re-buying music they had 30-40 years ago. It is good to see the vinyl resurgence.
――And then the reissues.
I know. I have some customers that only want original pressings, and we have some that only want the reissues.
――What is your opinion on the format differences?
For me it's always been vinyl. I remember opening the record, smelling the record, touching, reading, looking at the artwork—it was the whole thing that engaged all of your senses and it was so cool. CDs never quite filled that void for me. Vinyl definitely has that warm sound. But, I also have a good stereo system and you can listen to music in pretty much any format and it's going to sound pretty darn good.
You know on Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) recordings that are limited number in pressings—some of them are just unbelievable. They have this new “One Step” process and Santana’s Abraxas was the first one that they did. There were only 5,000-7,000 pressings, and I am sure I paid like $140 for it. Now it’s like $850 online. MoFi is half-speed masters 45 rpm, a lot of them sound incredible. The interesting thing with the MoFis is that they are kind of erratic: some sound good and some sound amazing. The old pressing MoFi of Rubber Soul is amazing, and then the new Simon and Garfunkel—unbelievable—but there are other ones that don't sound anywhere as good, so even on a half-speed audiophile format with a starting cost of $50, there is no guarantee. Sticky Fingers doesn't sound so good, but Some Girls sounds amazing. The Rolling Stones put out all of their stuff and they did a limited edition of, I think, 5,000 pressings of their first 13 Stones albums on Mobile Fidelity, and they did the same with all of the The Beatles stuff. Those things go for a lot of money now.
―― Any notable events while running your store?
Well, Record Store Day has been huge for us. It's on the third Saturday of April. So the idea was: how do we get people into independent record stores? So they got artists and record companies to work with them and release limited edition pressings on things, or reissues on red vinyl or blue vinyl, cool artwork, or even extra songs. So a lot of people are interested in that. That day for the year will be like 4-5% of the total sales of the entire year. We open at 7am, and this year we had 53 people in line at 5:30am. You know, Boulder is a Grateful Dead town, big time. The Dead come here every summer. So the Grateful Dead stuff that is released on Record Store Day, we are going to sell it throughout the year. The downside of that is: we can order 75 but we may only get 20. We can order 20, but we may get 5. Keep in mind, some of them only have 5,000 or 7,000 pressings and everybody wants them. There is no guarantee that you are getting what you ordered… but that is just how it works, so get over it! It's just fun. It raises awareness for record stores, and it gets people in the store. Close to 40% of the sales on that day are non-Record Store Day items and people are just grabbing vinyl for extra purchase. But again, on a “regular day,” it's the 80/20 rule. We can just have two or three people that come in and drop 200-300 bucks. That is the difference. That is how our business is.
~Dylan starts playing in the store~
♫ “Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast...” ♫
Will: "Here comes Dylan. The new one."
―― Let's look at some special records you got here.
Let me show you something really cool first. This is an old O'Jays record. But the coolest part of this record [opens cover and pulls out photo] is the picture in here. And what's even cooler... [reaches in again] there is the business card: "Bobby L. Massey of the O'Jays!"
――Oh wow. Used by the O’Jays themselves for booking shows!
I think it's so cool. I am going to sell it for $40, although, part of me just wants to frame the thing and put it up.
Bart’s Record Shop
1625 Folsom Street, Boulder, CO 80302
Hours: 10am-7pm everyday
Tel: (303) 444-1760 USA
Official Site: https://bartsrecordshop.com/
Interview, article and photographs by Mika Anami