After 42 years, Buch Spieler Records in Montpelier has new owners. Yet despite the change, the independent, locally-owned store has come full circle since the store’s founder, Fred Wilber, opened the doors in 1973.
At that time, music came primarily in one form: on vinyl records. Then came cassettes, a change Wilber says he resisted at first. After that: CDs.
“The ‘end-all’ format, which I didn’t like,” says Wilber.
Wilber adopted CDs, too, but the advent of downloading and online streaming was something music stores could not easily adjust to.
“A lot of my distributors really tried to encourage me to get into video games,” he says. “I saw them as the new heroin.”
So Buch Spieler marched on as a music store, although business was down. Wilber sold greeting cards to help support the business, and he rented space to a used clothing store.
Today Buch Spieler is smaller than it once was, but survives in an era when many similar stores have closed. Buch Spieler became a Montpelier institution not just due to its longevity, but also because the store’s staff, funky character and eclectic mix of music inspired customer loyalty.
“We opened one night for a midnight sale for a Miles Davis boxed set, which everybody said I was completely crazy to do at a midnight sale," Wilber recalls. "And we had a line down the street."
When Montpelier flooded in 1993, Wilber canoed to the store. Much of the inventory was spared when the water rose to just below the height of the racks.
Langdon Street, the block-long, one-way Montpelier street that feels like Greenwich Village, is perfectly suited to Wilber’s liberal politics, which were on display in the topical buttons, posters and bumper stickers in the window.
Inside, customers were as likely to be chatting with Wilber and each other as they were to be shopping for music. Wilber says what he’ll miss most is the society of Buch Spieler customers.
While he is retiring, the store isn’t going anywhere. In recent times, Wilber has stocked the shelves with vinyl to meet a growing demand.
The new owners, Knayte Lander and Xavier Jimenez, plan to build on that. Lander says there’s a novelty to vinyl that’s attracting people who only know music as something you play on a computer or other device.
“Computers can have an inherent ‘uncoolness.’ Everyone’s got a computer. Everyone’s streaming stuff. I’ve had people come in, pick up a record and say, ‘What is this?’” he says.
Beyond the novelty, there’s the artwork of the album cover, and the analog audio quality that’s warmer than CDs and much fuller than downloaded music. Jimenez likens what’s happening with vinyl sales to the slow food movement and other shifts in consumer tastes that value quality over quantity or convenience.
“There’s a lot of overlap, I would say, with artisanal crafted things. There’s a quality with the listening experience with records and slowing it down a bit,” he says.
As demand for vinyl has grown, so has the selection available, from reissued rare old recordings to popular new releases.
“Artists like Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, even Taylor Swift: These people are releasing records on vinyl and its selling for us as much as the CD copy,” says Lander.
Buch Spieler’s new owners don’t expect people to abandon streaming and downloading, but they do think the future lies in the same thing that sustained the store when it started 42 years ago: vinyl records.