Interview: Jamie Hochmuth of Bazaar Records
Our Purcellville Record Store Hero
I first started listening to records when I was very young. My cousin Michael and I used to play his father’s records on their family’s turntable until we were old enough to buy our own. I grew up listening to rock and roll groups like Frank Zappa, Foghat, The Grateful Dead, and Led Zeppelin. I was so intrigued by the records and the way they looked and sounded; it was so appealing. Over time, I inherited a few records here and there from family members but, when I was 17 or so, I decided that I needed to start a collection of my own. Early in my senior year of high school I had heard of It’s Bazaar on 21st St, in Purcellville, and that there was a guy who rented a space to sell records. I gathered up what little money I had, and made my way to the shop to meet this fellow.
When I walked in the place the was decorated with all sorts of local craftsmanship and artist; a true antique bazaar. I went upstairs to see what kind of collection the guy had and was excited to leave with my first vinyl purchase. I was immediately greeted by the owner of all the vinyl: Jamie Hochmuth. He introduced himself, asked if I needed any help, and if there was anything I needed that he could order it. Right off the bat he gave off a great business owner vibe. He explained that he was calling his space “Bazaar Records” and that he was here to stay. I got to looking and finally picked out The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out. Hochmuth made a comment about the album and some other suggested Zappa. The man knew his stuff and was very helpful. I walked out of the store that with a huge grin on my face and knew I would be back soon.
That was over five years ago and Hochmuth still operates his business with sole proprietorship. Since I first walked in, I have probably bought over 200 records and spent over $500. I’m proud to say that my money went towards Bazaar Records. The more time went on, the more records, books, tapes, so on, came in. Hochmuth’s space has transformed from a small space upstairs to a much larger and convenient space downstairs; it continues to grow. So when Dave Levinson and Loudoun Arts presented a journalistic opportunity, I knew exactly who I was going to interview first: Mr. Jamie Hochmuth of Bazaar Records.
This is his story:
What made you want to start up a record store in Purcellville or a small town in general?
“So I grew up in Prince William County and my wife, and I moved out here maybe 11 years ago. My wife’s grandma owned Freeman’s General Store on Airmont Road in Bluemont. Anyways, we had this general store when we first moved out here, and I was trying to figure out how we could use it. It’s now her pottery studio but, at the time, one of the ideas was to take part of the space and do a record shop.
I had a lot of vinyl, not a huge amount but, I had a lot. It had been in the back of my mind for a while to start a record shop. So I would even buy doubles of things that I already had if they were in good shape. I wasn’t buying that many compared to now. The only issue was that the house is way out in the middle of nowhere and not much for a location. On the plus side, I owned the place and wasn’t having to pay rent on it. When Becky and Bill, the original owner’s of The Bazaar, opened up I saw a sign out front. I tracked Becky down to speak to her about it. It’s Bazaar on 21st St seemed like a perfect location, the rent wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t perfect but the best set up for me to at least get something open. They’d run sales when I wasn’t here, and I could continue my day job.
I didn’t pick Purcellville, in particular, but it was here and sort of fell into my lap. Things started to take off. I wish it were busier but, I think that has to do with being in a small town. Also, being in an antique Bazaar where people don’t exactly anticipate it being a record shop. Customers have to sort of stumble upon it themselves. Plus I don’t do any advertising really, I probably should haha. The sales have definitely grown since the first day; the business certainly pays for itself. It helps pay for things that I wouldn’t have room for without the shop. It funded The Grateful Dead 50th anniversary last year for some shows in Chicago, for instance.”
Where are you from originally?
“I was born in New London, my dad was in the Navy, so we traveled around a bit. However, again, I grew up in Prince Williams County. I grew up in a strong household with a very functional family. I always had someplace to call home.
Thinking back when I grew up, and it is probably the same way now, you had a mixture of the freaks (the hippie guys) and then you had a bit of the punk rock crowd in DC. As I went through early high school I was listening to a lot of Rick James and some old Run DMC but, I gravitated to the punk rock stuff quickly. I got into the DC hardcore scene and would see bands 3 or 4 nights a week. That was a pretty violent scene, though. I’ve never been a big guy. I shaved my head and died an anarchy symbol on one side and a crucifix on the other. My mom gave me some money to get a haircut, and I just had a buddy cut my hair. I came back, and my mother looked at me, my father was on a business trip in California, and my mom was a real prim and proper sort of lady. She went berserk. I remember she screamed at me and grabbed by my shoulders with her long fingernails. That lasted about two years, and I’ve always cared for that type of music, but the scene was a little violent for me. I slowly mellowed out a little and started getting into The Grateful Dead and stuff like that.”
Do you remember the first record that you purchased and how much you may have spent?
“The first record that I bought. I can remember the first CD that I bought, CDs used to come in a rectangle to make it look like they were packaged sort of like an album. I can remember the first one of those that I bought: it was a George Thorogood album. I might have spent like $6 or something like that. I think that was up at White Flint Mall in Maryland.
The first record, hmmm, I can’t remember the first record that I bought. I have two older brothers who are both almost 60, and I grew up listening to their music. Black Sabbath, early Simon and Garfunkel, some other late 60’s early 70’s. I remember hearing the cough at the beginning of “Sweat Leaf” by Sabbath and thinking it was funny as a little kid haha. My earliest memories of music come from using my dad’s real-to-real player. My friends and I would listen to many tapes too like Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, the live album over and over, Queen, and we listened to a whole lot of Elvis Presley.
I had a friend that lived that lived through the woods from our house. They had white, plush, shag carpet in their sunken living room. They had a fountain that came out the wall too. In the living room, the mother of the family had a pearl white piano back there and a white and red sparkled accordion. She wasn’t a musician, but they were all huge Elvis fans. I remember the day he died, I went over there and told the family because they hadn’t heard yet. She broke down crying, and it was a huge deal. Those are some of the earliest of memories of music for me. Air guitar and all that kid stuff. Maybe I ended up buying an Elvis record as my first; I know David Bowie was one of the early ones I bought.”
Obviously, you sell a lot of vinyl. What all else do you have available for sale?
“CDs, which have gone the way of the highway. You cannot really find those anymore even bigger stores like Best Buy etc. Records got popular again and some cassettes, I sell some of those from time to time. CDs are easy to find inexpensive and resell to make a profit and not have to charge much more. CDs, cassettes, records, T-shirts, vintage clothing, paper products like books and comics, toys, old pop culture stuff. That pretty much covers it.
Now and then I pick up something exotic to sell. I’ve actually sold a few real-to-real players out of the shop, and there’s a collectors market for the tapes as well. They’ll go on eBay for, depending on what it is, some of the rock and roll ones go for $50, $60, and up from there. There’s definitely a market, I do not plan on filling the place up with them but, I have sold some. The sound quality is great.”
How do you normally go about pricing vinyl and other used items?
“Having the shop for about five years, as I mentioned, I know how much most things are worth or charged. Most records range from about $4-8 or something like that. However, there are some things I’ll come across, especially in Jazz, that I have to look up in guides to get an idea of general pricing. I don’t like to use the direct guide price because of any wear and tear on both the discs and covers. I think when I first opened, I was pricing somethings way to low and vice-versa. So I’ve got a feel for what people are willing to spend and what is fair. For instance, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors is probably the best-selling record in the shop. So at one time I would sell that at $7 but, it sells so often now that it’s something that I’ve put up to $10 or $12. Supply and demand type of thing. I like to use things like Pop Sike, Ebay, and other online stuff to try and price accordingly.”
Where do you purchase most of your records?
“More of my records are purchased from people bringing them into the shop. I still hit the thrift stores and flee markets when I’m able. It’s mostly buying private individuals collections. Whether they bring them in, or I go out to their place. I don’t mind doing that especially if they’re selling in bulk. I like to be able to pick and choose which ones I want. Invariably, in this business, you end up buying the same crappy records over and over again. Recycling them in the $1 bin or getting rid of them all together.”
Is it hard to say goodbye to some stuff?
“Yes. It is definitely hard. Before I had all these records, I had a memorabilia collection of posters, books, etc. and I had them in the general store where we live. However, nobody would ever go down there except me. For me, part of the enjoyment of having a shop is you know, you kind of get to show off the stuff that you’ve got. Almost like a museum. You see people come in and say, “Wow! I have not seen this in ages.” Most things you can find again but there are some records you do not find very often that you do not want to let go. In fact, I just sold one of those this morning haha. It pulls at my heart strings a little. In all honesty, out of the thousands and thousands of records that I have, I only regularly listen to 50 or 60 of them. It is not like I try to listen to everything I buy that would just be impossible.”
Have you thought about selling online at all?
“I used to sell on eBay 9 or 10 years ago but, I never did it a whole lot.I had some success with it but, I think that I was probably buying just as much as I was selling. At the time, I was kind of in between jobs, so it was almost a necessity that I did it. It’s much work to do that, however. I’ve tried to convince and teach my 13-year-old son to do eBay sales, and I told him that if he’ll learn it, then I’ll give him a big percentage of the sale. I’ll get products in that need to be priced at $300+, and there’s not many people that are going to come into the shop to throw down that kind of money. There might be one person, but I have no idea when that person may come in. However, if it’s on eBay, it’s going to sell. There’s some products that I have that I’d like to put it on the internet but, I don’t particularly like to do it. It’s tedious. That’s why I’d like to get my son to help out but, he’s just realizing the value of money now so I think that maybe in a year or two he’ll say ‘dad, I’m ready to do that, let’s put some stuff on there.
People question the quality and condition of products, so if you’re lying about your products, you’re going to piss some people off, and they’re not going to buy from you. I tried to take as many pictures as I could when I was doing it. I just found it to be much work to package it up, take it to the post office, all of that kind of stuff. It could definitely be a full-time job. However, I would like to add eventually to the sales of the shop. The extra income from having the record shop is great, but I love hearing about people’s concerts, talking music with people, meeting new customers, their stories. That’s all more important to me than just turning a buck. eBay is just turning a buck.”
What kind of stories have you heard from customers?
“I met a guy one time who was a neighbor of Jim Morrison’s when he lived here in Arlington or Alexandria, wherever it was. Their fathers were both in the Navy, so he went to school briefly with Jim in elementary school. Then they [Morrison’s] got transferred up to; I think Rhode Island. Then this customer’s family moved up to the same area, and he had one more year of high school with Morrison before he left for California. Great stories, right? A few people have come in and told me they saw Hendrix up at the roller skating rink, wherever that was, Falls Church or something. Cool stories.”
It’s been nice to watch the business grow in the past five years. You used to have a smaller space upstairs and have taken another spot downstairs; that seems to give you more exposure. Do you have any intention to open up your own shop at some point?
“I would love to do a storefront shop. The rent would have to be right though haha. At The Bazaar, it’s wonderful because the rent’s cheap and they run sails when I’m not here. When you open up a store front all of the sudden I’ve got to pay the water bills, the electricity, I have to pay a few employees to help run the store. I do hope to expand my space a little bit in The Bazaar, however. I’d like to sell more of the books. Maybe if they were more out in the open for people to see, they would get sold more.
It’s hard for me to let down a rock and roll biography, Hunter S Thompson, or Kerouac. I’m a sucker for that. I just got my 7th copy of On the Road here. I’ve always bought them[books], and there was a time when my family would go out to Cincinnati, and I’d hit the record shops there, and they’d always have books. However, their books were always priced at like $4 and $5 so; I’d always pick up a few there. I always wondered why they priced those books so low. Well, I figured it out when I started selling them: people don’t buy them. You get a few people here and there but for the most part, they collect dust. I’ll probably try to have a big sale on them and get rid of some to restock.
I like poetry a lot, so I pick up a lot of the smaller poetry books. Kids are educated now, and I am shocked when the middle and high schoolers come in. They know so much about the music and the literature. A young girl came in a few weeks ago and bought a few Bukowski books.I love Bukowski’s stuff. I’m selling stuff like those writers and many people either have forgotten about them or don’t know who they are.”
Do you think this up-rise in the demand of records is part of a generational trend or do you think it is here to stay?
“That is a good question; I don’t really know. There’s a part of me that says that records are almost an archetype thing, especially with the young “in” thing. Talking about the physical part of it, it’s almost like it’s something we need. Like photographs or learning shapes and letters. I don’t know. There are so many records in the world. Thrift stores are full of crap records that will never sell. Music will always be there. An article that ended up being in Loudoun Times Mirror, I made some silly comment about music and religion or something like that. Music fulfills the spiritual part of my life. It sees you through death, break ups, hard times, good times. Records create a soundtrack of your life. I think music will always inform peoples lives.
I am always amazed by people who don’t listen to music. What sucks, is some people don’t. They might peripherally listen to the radio or something like that. I don’t know what to say about records, however. Music will always be important to people’s lives. I certainly hope, as a record store owner, that it continues to strive haha, I’d be in danger if not. I think about it often. Records weigh a lot when you put them together and creates an inconvenience and end up spending more time in someone’s basement or garage. I think there is an element to the hipster thing, but I don’t think they lead the sales by any means. The competition to buy records is getting harder and some records are getting harder to find. Maybe if the bottom fell out again, you’d be able to go out and start finding Zeppelin in the store for $1.”
Have you noticed any specific demographic?
“The 20-somethings for the most part. I’d like to get more high-schoolers coming in. There’s not as many as I’d like there to be but there’s certainly some. The ones that are coming in are blowing me away with their education in music and literature. Especially the kids who come from the jazz program or something. Moreover, then there’s a good mixture of older folks, the 40s and 50s. So yeah it’s a pretty good mix. However, for the most part, it’s them 20-somethings coming in. Of course, we’ve got Patrick Henry, Loudoun Valley, and Woodgrove, so that’s a pretty large pool of young people to pull from. I only get so many of them, but I think a lot of that has to do with disposable income. If you’re in college or high school, what money you might be making from a part time job is probably going towards pizza or something like that. Trying to survive haha.
I have many regulars too. I appreciate those regulars immensely because they are the people who keep the shop going. I see a lot of the same faces weekly, and there’s a good mix of guys and girls too. I’d probably say mostly guys, but there are many girls and women coming in buying records as well. I do see many people starting to come from Leesburg, Sterling, even Farifax sometimes. Just make a special trip out this way to buy records.”
Have you tried to do any vending at festivals or other events?
“I have not. I go to the flee markets; I don’t go as much as I used to. With the shop, people bring things in, and I’ll buy them there. That way I don’t have to wake up early on a Saturday or Sunday and go hunt records as much as I used to. I’m just not a morning person. I like to go, but if you’re not out there at the crack of dawn, you’re not going to get anything. But no, I don’t hit the festivals too much. Simply because the records are heavy to lug around in the heat of the summer. That being said, the heat can warp the records, tapes, etc. Like Watermelon Park, I think eventually I will go down and sell some records there. I’ve been trying to get my act together for the past few years for that, but I haven’t. It’s just because it’s a lot of stuff to carry around. Then I got to watch it all weekend, and I often like to be more of a participant in what’s going on, then perhaps being tied down to the fort.”
Do you think you bring something special to the community, being the only record store in Purcellville?
“Well, again, the importance of music. I don’t think that can be overstated: how important music is to people’s lives. Music can also be a gateway to kids. It accompanies behavior of growing up. That can go positively or negatively of course but, I think music is the victim of the negativity. A good record collection is like a good book collection. There’s something to be said about having a classical education. Reading the classics of music and literature. There’s something to be said about having something healthy that produces a human being or young person that can view the qualities of empathy, kindness, and caring. That can come through being educated in music and literature. I’m not articulate enough to express that enough in words.
Although I’m a seller and not a producer (I don’t produce any records myself), I believe it’s giving back to the community. It’s a part of the arts, and Loudoun County is full of the arts and people who do produce their own things. However, I do think that it contributes to our community in its own way. It’s something a little special, there isn’t anywhere else in town that’s quite like It’s Bazaar. Not just my space but the entire store.”
Do you get specific orders for items?
“Not beyond a particular record and if I don’t have it I’m willing to track it down. The thing that comes to mind is new bands on vinyl. I just started the process of getting in contact with the distributors of the major labels who are starting to carry new products. I currently have a relationship with three of those: Matador, SubPop, Burger Records. I’ll be ordering some new stuff soon actually. I need to find a distributor for Warner Bros and Casablanca, that kind of stuff. People come in asking for new artist vinyl too. I just had someone come in and ask for an Angel Olsen record today. I’d like to carry more new vinyl, so it’s a new and used record shop. The new records do sell slower though because, they’re priced higher and in the small town of Purcellville. Stores in more populated areas with a younger crowd would probably sell more new vinyl.”
With your business, do you still find time to sit and enjoy records?
“So I’ve got a really small house, we’re lucky there hasn’t been an ax murder there yet. I have a two bedroom cabin with a kitchen and a living-room. It’s my wife, two kids, and I, two dogs and a cat. It’s quite small. We don’t have cable, so we don’t spend too much time sitting in front of the TV. We try to put on, not religiously, but one new record a night. We often do, so we probably end up listening to 3 or 4 new ones a week. I listen to a lot of jazz, tons of jazz. Moreover, Jazz is a great thing, and you can put on a new jazz record and think, ‘where has this been all my life? This is incredible.’ However, like I said, I often play a lot of the same. Like I have a copy of Goat’s Head Soup by The Rolling Stones at home that I’ve worn out. It’s my favorite Stones album. I’ve got some P-Funk at home that we listen to a lot. I probably only have about 60 records at home, but I cycle those a lot. I’ve got a ton of CDs we listen to at home too but, we find ourselves often time listening to the same thing. So that being said, we try to fit in 3 or 4 new albums a week.”
What format do you prefer to listen to most? Do you spite the digital world?
“Sound-wise, vinyl. However, I do often end up playing more CDs because those are convenient right? You can just pull em off the shelf and throw em in a player. However, I would rather hear it on a vinyl. I don’t have much of a spite for the digital world, but I can tell the difference when listening. An album has the warmth and clarity in the sound verses a digital download. I don’t have a real great setup at home, however. For a time, I was getting a lot of digital downloads with Grateful Dead albums, but I’d stay away from the MP3s, because they do sound bad. But no I don’t have a beef with the digital world. I guess I would if I was a record store owner and records didn’t make a come back ya know? ‘God damn the digital!’ haha. It’s not killing the business, though. People just love holding an album, the same album flipping it back and forth. It will always be the same, but there’s something more real about holding it up in your hands rather than looking at a computer or phone screen. There’s tangibility there. There’s just something about it, there really is. People have recognized that over the past 15 years. MP3s are so impersonal. How many people’s MP3 players are sitting in a desk somewhere? Not to say they haven’t moved onto some new, better device. Seems like most people just use their phone anymore. Like I said, most of the time the only use the MP3 is if it comes as a free download or something. It’s most of the new bands like Deerhunter or Real Estate that provide those types of free downloads. The old stuff doesn’t have that.”
What’s your favorite genre of music? What genre to sell most?
“Rock n’ Roll probably sells the most. Mostly the arena rock guys: Boston, Led Zep, Kansas, etc. Punk rock, alternative, 80’s rock sells well too. The hardest stuff to sell/find is heavy metal. I am not talking about the hair bands either. I’m talking metal. People hunt that stuff down but, they’re high priced. Jazz sells fairly too, but I’d say the rock stuff overall. I love jazz but, I put it down for the past year and a half or so. I still listen to it but not as much. The Grateful Dead is my passion. For me, it’s what consistently floats my boat. My wife turned me onto The Smiths when we first met. Certain records have always resonated with me though like most of David Bowie’s early stuff. No particular genre is my favorite, but like I said, I think The Dead is what I listen to most often.”
Do you have any advice for other small businesses?
“Do what you know. Do what you are passionate about. Do what you love. Moreover, being friendly about it haha. Be outgoing, be yourself. Being friendly is important in business. I can’t stand going into a record store, or anyplace for that matter, and dealing with a snobby employee or more often the owner.”
What’s the hardest part of your job?
“Oh man, there’s nothing hard about it. I’ve got the greatest job in the world. I would love to quit my day job and sell records full time. There’s nothing hard about it really. I guess the only difficulty is tracking down a particular record/collection and beating the other sellers to them. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good product. You can always find records to put in your record shop but, I’m talking good quality here. You’ve got to have the good stuff in constantly or folks won’t return. I’m always on the hunt.
This is the greatest thing in the world is doing something that you’re passionate about and for me that’s selling records. I sell barns for a living at my day job and project management stuff. Whereas that pays the bills, my passion isn’t there. Unfortunately in life, you can’t always do exactly what you want to do to be able to make money. Sometimes you’ve just got to make money one way or another. I am incredibly thankful for whatever power is out there to allow for this to happen. What’s better in the world than music? Your kids, the person that you love, people in your life, your relationships. Second to none to relationships is music, man. I’ll be listening to music on my death bed. Hopefully, someone will put a pear of headphones in there with me.”
Jamie Hochmuth/Bazaar Records: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s Bazaar on 21st Street
143 N 21st St, Purcellville, VA 20132