The Vinyl Solution

Think 45s are a thing of the past? Think again.

"It was so much fun," Heather agrees. "On the nights when we'd stay there until closing time, I'd get all dressed up in this dress I wore when I was a flower girl in a wedding, and the DJ would play a special song for me. I think it was an old Queen song. And at the end of the night, all the kids would clear off the dance floor and I'd dance around by myself until the song was over. And then I'd run back downstairs again."

Unfortunately, the Sarsaparilla Saloon turned out to be a short-lived venture: Nine months after it opened, Raymond was told to move somewhere else, and that was that. The clan wound up in Denver around the time the Johnsons' marriage was disintegrating. "It looked like I might have a reason to have to support myself," Carolyn says, "and after looking around a little bit, I realized that typical male careers paid a lot better than typical female careers. So I decided to go in the typical male direction."

To that end, Carolyn signed up at a Denver electronics institute and learned how to repair pinball machines. (She also met her current husband, Vince Quick, who was in the class behind hers. Today he's a photocopier repairman.) Her new skills earned her a spot at Denver-based Struve Distributing, which sold and serviced games and jukeboxes, but after a year on the job, her position was phased out. "At first I didn't know what I was going to do," she admits. "But the whole time I'd been working there, I'd hear people say, 'You should have a record department.' And I thought, 'I like music. I could do that.'"

The executives at Struve approved Carolyn's scheme, and in short order, she was running a precursor to Hear Here from three rooms at the distributorship. It was tough to get the operation off the ground, in part because record companies initially balked at supplying her with music. "I don't blame them," Carolyn says. "They didn't know who I was." But the setup allowed her to look after Heather and Tamara, who at the time were eleven and ten, respectively. She'd put them to work making title strips and checking in stock, and when they got restless, she'd send them into the Struve showroom to play video games and pinball. "They were all left on free play for demonstration purposes," Heather reveals. "We both got really good."

When Struve was sold to another corporation, Colorado Game Exchange, Carolyn was confident enough to strike out on her own. Her first two locations weren't exactly swank--the first was directly above a food-stamp office on West Alameda Avenue, the second on Federal Boulevard next door to a nightclub called Dandy Dan's--but she found a way to survive. Then, in 1995, she received a call from the manager of Mountain Coin, her only local rival. After informing her that the company had decided to stop selling discs and singles at its stores in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs in order to consolidate its goods at the Denver location, he proposed that she merge her business with Mountain Coin's music department. By October, a deal was struck, and Carolyn moved in.

"Some of the things they stocked were a little strange," she says as she mentions some holdovers from the Mountain Coin era--such as three boxes' worth of "Eyes of a Child," a flop by Air Supply, and a CD copy of the soundtrack to Schindler's List, which hasn't gone down in pop-history as a jukebox favorite. She fingers a 45. "Like Timmy Gatling here--I don't think anyone's ever heard of him, so his stuff may be around for a while. And Ken Griffin--he played the organ, and organ music isn't really big in jukeboxes.

"But most of these records will find a home sooner or later. I'll bet there's somebody out there for every single record we've got. It's just a matter of finding them."

Not that Carolyn is knocking herself out to let vinyl lovers know about her treasure trove. She's never advertised, relying instead on word of mouth to attract buyers. For this reason, Hear Here remains something of a mystery to some. "We get calls from people with hearing aids all the time," she remarks. "One guy came in here and said, 'I need to get a new battery for my hearing aid.' And somebody else said, 'I want to change my appointment with my doctor.' I felt bad turning them away."

Nonetheless, a wide variety of aficionados have managed to find Carolyn somehow. Folks with their own boxes make up an increasing percentage of her business: Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan filled his jukebox with 45s from her musical cache, as have countless people of less means. ("CD jukeboxes start around $5,000," she notes. "But you can get a good 45 jukebox for $500.") Collectors, too, rely on her expertise: Joel Whitburn, who's authored numerous reference books under the auspices of Billboard magazine, got many of his singles from Hear Here. And square dancers and dance callers throughout the region turn to the shop when they want to update their repertoires. "They have what's called the 'round of the month,' or the 'round of the week'--they're published in national square-dance magazines," Heather says. "And they'll call us to get singles, sometimes for everyone in their group."

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