“I’ve spent most of my adult life in record stores. This is the most organized, cleanest record store I’ve ever worked in,” says Bart's Record Shop vinyl buyer and former Cavity guitarist Jon Martinez, who's been employed at Bart’s for over twenty years and is a veteran of now-defunct legendary Boulder record shops like Trade-A-Tape and the old Wax Trax.
“It’s been refreshing to work under these circumstances,” Martinez said from behind a Pink Floyd mask while pricing stacks of used vinyl on a recent Thursday evening. “Everyone’s working very hard to make the store a great place. That’s not necessarily the case in all the other stores I’ve worked in. This is the one that hits all those sweet spots — and also, records are booming right now, and I’m astonished.”
Thirty years ago, Bart Stinchcomb — a partner at Trade-A-Tape — opened the original Bart’s in a quirky little space on Pearl Street near Nick-N-Willy’s pizza. Longtime Boulderites say shopping there was like being in someone’s living room. After upgrading to the sprawling two-story CD Cellar on Pearl Street, which he eventually sold to a company that didn't keep it open long, Stinchcomb briefly ran the 400-square-foot Bart’s Shack at the far west end of Pearl, near the Red Rocks Trail. After the 2013 flood damaged the Shack, Bart’s ended up filling its current, larger space on Folsom Street, near the Village Coffee Shop, with thousands of CDs and records and a dusty, old-school, disheveled vibe. When Bart's opened there, you could find bearded, tie-dyed clerks and, if you spent enough time digging, used-vinyl gems.
Retired Whole Foods executive Will Paradise, a New England native who's lived in Boulder for twenty years, bought Bart’s in 2016, and the quick transformation at his “labor of love” was remarkable. Paradise, who'd never worked in a record store before, says he'd wanted to own one since he was a kid, and that he learned what he “liked and didn’t like” from many years as a shopper.
“The big thing is, I wanted more vinyl in the store,” Paradise says. “We had close to 20,000 CDs. Since that time, we’ve almost tripled sales, and CDs have gone from over 50 percent of sales down to 2 percent. Nobody’s buying them. So I wanted more vinyl, and I wanted it to be more organized.”
On April 1, Bart’s will move to the southeast corner of 17th and Pearl streets and become Paradise Found, selling records and music-related merchandise from a space more than twice the size of the current location and continuing to implement Paradise’s vision of merging music knowledge with retail expertise.
“For me, there’s always been this stereotypical High Fidelity record-store employee,” explains Paradise, who hired four new employees for the new location. "That’s just a stereotypical view, right? The most important thing is a positive attitude, a service attitude combined with music knowledge. You can teach music knowledge to people over time, but if you don’t really have those [customer service] skills...you either got ’em or you don’t.”
Making music accessible has been a longtime goal of Bart's staff. Over the past few years, the youthful front-desk employees have sparked the shop’s substantial growth by posting on Instagram daily and enthusiastically engaging with customers about all kinds of music. For the new hires, Paradise says he prioritized “people with a positive, upbeat attitude combined with music knowledge and a willingness to try anything."
“At the end of the day, I consider myself a retailer," he says, "and that’s what retail is all about — just trying things and presenting stuff in a way that’s more appealing.”
Buyer and manager Patrick Selvage, who ran Bart’s a couple years ago while Paradise and his family traveled around the world, says Paradise’s success wasn’t surprising.
“One of the biggest things people say when they come into our shop is how organized it is, how easy it is to find things, and how willing we are to help people find new music. Will was regional manager for Whole Foods for decades" — at one point he oversaw 45 stores — “and really knows how to run a business and how to get a customer base," Selvage says. "Not only did he have that knowledge, but he had the money."
Unlike Stinchcomb, Paradise has the capital to buy big record collections, make Record Store Day a regular extravaganza, get multiple copies of new albums, and fill the store with used-vinyl gems every day.
"With a good record store," Selvage says, "you want to see something new every time you go in, right? If you go into a record store and don’t see anything new, you might not go in for two weeks, and if you don’t see anything new after two weeks, you might not go in for a month. Bart is all heart, but he had a little bit of that problem.
“There’s a new influx of new releases that really helped bring in the new clientele,” Selvage notes, “and with the social presence on Instagram, that reached a lot of people, especially during the pandemic. I don’t think we could’ve expanded any more at the Folsom Street location; there just isn’t enough space. My hope is that it’s going to bring in an even bigger crowd with more diverse tastes.”
Boulder was once reportedly home to more record stores per capita than anywhere in the United States. In the 1980s, Martinez says, “I spent most of my time in record stores on the Hill, because back then there could be four or five stores just at 13th and College.” Now that Boulder only has Andy Schneidkraut’s Albums on the Hill and Bart’s, along with Absolute Vinyl in Longmont, a sense of community among music geeks has faded, but Paradise wants to strengthen it at Paradise Found.
“I really miss that sense of community," Martinez continues, "and I think when we come on the other end of this [pandemic], people are really gonna wanna be spending time doing stuff, and have opportunities to do stuff, around music. We’re gonna have a great stereo system in there, and we wanna be able to do new-release-party nights and a music series for important records, where we’ll just invite forty people in after hours and listen to music.”
Selvage adds that when pandemic regulations are lifted, Paradise Found will “have in-store performances and a community base, where people get together and hang out and have midnight listening parties on a really great sound system. We definitely want to make it a destination point.
“A lot of America has gotten used to going to Amazon, pushing the button to buy, and two days later it’s there. A lot of America has gotten very used to that,” he says. “The unfortunate part that gets lost in all that is the community around record stores — people coming in and talking to each other about music. You hear all these bands say that how they met each other was hanging out at local record stores talking about music. That’s being taken away now.”
Selvage adds that he hopes the few other surviving Boulder record stores “stay intact,” because “if it goes down to one store per town, pretty soon there’s no stores.”
Paradise not only concurs — “A rising tide floats all boats,” he says — but wants to commission art dedicated to the history of Boulder record shops on the wall outside Paradise Found.
“As big as we can, I’d love to have a mural that pays tribute to all the stores that have been before us and have all the logos or the actual buildings — something that pays tribute to everything that’s come before, you know?” he says.
And with any luck, someday there will be a mural devoted just to Martinez — who was honored in Bob Rob Medina and Sonny Kay's second Denvoid book for, in his words, “being someone both in bands and someone who sold a bunch of punk records to a bunch of punk kids.”
“Jon is instant credibility for a store like this,” Paradise said as he was closing up shop at Bart’s a few weeks ago. “He’s been doing it for a long time, and he knows tons about music.”
With Paradise’s retail wisdom and the combination of Martinez’s old-school cred, the youthful energy and know-how of the store's newest employees, and the intelligence and ideas of Selvage, Paradise Found is likely to live up to its name for Front Range music lovers, and its owner, for a long time.
“It’s going to be really good,” Paradise says. “I just look at it as fun. I got into it as just a project, something to keep me busy after retiring, and it’s been so great to just have a community.”