Finding dusty record shops that cater to artsy geeks has never been so hard in Boulder, where the city’s eccentric charm has been diluted by a sky-high cost of living and an influx of techies from the coasts.
Absolute Vinyl is one of the last spots where the college town’s once notorious weirdness still lingers.
Owners Doug and Annie Gaddy, a husband-wife duo, will celebrate the shop’s eighth anniversary and the sale of its 80,000th record next month. Absolute Vinyl carries new albums from labels big and small, and has the most diverse selection of high-quality vintage vinyl of any shop along the Front Range.
Annie, who began loving music as a child piano prodigy, is “really good at taking really nerdy, geeky guys with no social skills around women and putting them at ease,” says her husband. “We give incredible customer service before, during and after the sale.”
The couple moved to Colorado in 1997. Doug Gaddy, who’s originally from North Carolina, says they founded Absolute Vinyl when it became clear that Boulder was “shedding record stores” and that opening a shop would be a good business investment. The couple launched the store in January 2009 at the north end of Broadway; it has since relocated to a spot at Arapahoe and 55th Street.
“I learned from Andy [Schneidkraut, owner of legendary Boulder shop Albums on the Hill] that at its peak, Boulder had sixteen record stores,” Gaddy says. “I was trying to do a shop that was different from every other, and trying to move away from the jamgrass, the legacy of the hippies and that kind of stuff, trying to do something that was really different. I carry ambient and electronic music. I carry classical. I know a lot about jazz.”
Gaddy honed the craft of selling records while attending collectors’ shows in Washington, D.C., and New York in the late 1980s. Selling to “extremely picky Korean and Japanese buyers” influenced his store’s intricate and trustworthy grading system for used vinyl, he says. Absolute Vinyl is the only shop in the area that cleans and grades every used album it sells.
“No other shop is going to take the time to do that,” Gaddy says. “They don’t see the economic benefit. We get refugees who’ve been burned at other stores.” He says they become avid Absolute Vinyl customers because of the store’s generous warranty on records and vintage stereo equipment, which makes shopping virtually risk-free.
Basil Emmanuel, whom Gaddy calls his “MVP” employee, is known for greeting every customer with his signature salutation: “Welcome home.” But the Boulder native and his co-workers provide more than just a comfortable shopping experience; they also bring a wealth of knowledge to their work.
Absolute Vinyl has deep ties to the University of Colorado Boulder’s Radio 1190, where many of the staff work as DJs, giving them an edge on the record-store competition.
“They know so much about music and how it’s recorded and produced, as well as which current bands are worth noticing. I learn from them all the time,” says Gaddy, who has a weekly show on 1190 called Vinyl Obscurities.
Gaddy frequents Boulder house concerts hosted by up-and-coming indie label First Base Tapes, run by CU Boulder students and alums, many of whom have worked at Absolute Vinyl. He says he’s fueled by his interactions with the young musicians; they say the admiration is mutual.
“Doug is a staple in the Boulder music community,” observes 25-year-old Liam Comer. “He supports local musicians both by selling their music out of Absolute Vinyl and by building relationships with [them] and attending shows.” The store also recruits local artists to co-host album-release parties and concerts featuring Front Range musicians and touring acts.
Caden Marchese, a store clerk and Radio 1190 DJ, adds that “Doug also keeps vinyl alive in Boulder by doing stereo equipment right.”
Unlike Boulder’s two other iconic record shops, Albums on the Hill and Bart’s Record Shop, Absolute Vinyl has made its mark selling high-end new and vintage turntables, receivers and speakers.
“Vintage gear is an incredible value if it works and has been given a technical clean,” Gaddy notes.
Emmanuel has set up turntable-equipped stereos for at least 2,000 people in Boulder, including local celebrity pro cyclist Taylor Phinney.
“If I was going to buy used stereo equipment in Colorado and I was looking for it based on our sort of quality standards,” Emmanuel says, “the only place I would go is Absolute Vinyl — or Dr. Dan [Vintage Audio Repair] in Littleton — because I’d know what I’m getting.”
When it comes to record shopping, Gaddy laments, “there used to be a competency, but it’s getting diluted in Boulder. I don’t know who’s moving in, and I’m not sure who’s moving out, but the number of people who are fluent in walking into a record store and feeling at home and milling their way around — it seems like there are fewer people who are really good at that.”
Emmanuel says some of that homogenization of taste might have to do with the shocking sticker price of new vinyl, which can cost as much as four or five decent used records: “I think it’s throwing people off. They go, ‘Oh, my God — $32.99 for that new record? Well, if I can only buy one, I’ll just buy the one I want.’ And if they come in and you have it, they get it. If you don’t have it, they don’t look at anything else, and they just walk out. They don’t say, ‘Well, what do you have that would be just as good?’ or ‘Let me broaden my horizons.’ A lot of people come in only for a certain genre.”
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“There are people who are looking for Neil Young’s Harvest who are happy to look for it on eBay and order it,” he continues. “But there are other people who want to go to the shop without knowing whether we have it and be excited if they find it, but not mind if we don’t have it because they found something else and are just as excited about that.” Gaddy agrees, adding that over the years, he’s seen a shift in the spectrum of what music customers want to buy, and he fears that customers have lost their willingness to check out new albums. He calls record buyers who go shopping just for the hunt — the experience of flipping through stacks of used vinyl to find curiosities and surprise treasures — an “endangered species.”
When it comes to musical taste, he says, “the palate is getting narrower. We don’t sell as much of the esoteric stuff as we used to.”
His commitment to rare records — even when unprofitable — is an inspiration to young record collectors.
“Doug isn’t only one of the most well-versed individuals in Boulder’s music community,” 21-year-old First Base Tapes associate Kenneth Prior says. “He’s a really important figure for a lot of us to look up to, one of the most genuine people I know.”