North Carolina native Doug Gaddy opened Absolute Vinyl Records & Stereo in a tiny, spartan space in then-quiet North Boulder in 2009 with the help of his wife, Annie. The shop made fast fans, finding its niche by cleaning and grading every record it sells and boasting shelves full of vintage but near-mint, turntables, speakers and receivers. Doug and Annie weren’t in that location for long.
“The fire department came by to inspect that building every four or five months, because it should have been condemned. I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Gaddy says. “It was part of a remnant of an entire world that existed in North Boulder when it was a home for the disaffected, disadvantaged and disgruntled. I was there in the last days of that.”
Absolute Vinyl — currently celebrating its 15th year in business — was only in that original location for a little under two years before moving to a larger storefront on Arapahoe Avenue near 55th Street. Gaddy would stay in that location, attracting vinyl and stereo enthusiasts and creating a tight-knit community that included several young employees attached to a short-lived but vital local label called First Base Tapes, until about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when he took a leap of faith and moved to Main Street in Longmont.
The rent is cheaper, the foot-traffic is better in downtown Longmont, and a lot of people are moving there from more expensive areas of Boulder County. Gaddy won’t say whether he sees the new Absolute Vinyl as a big improvement; he’ll just say it’s “different.”
“Everything is different than everything else, but Longmont’s really happy I’m there, and I’m happy to be in Longmont,” he says. “Boulder is totally different than when I left. I mean, there’s no way to compare anything, given the last five years of existence on earth; it’s apples and moon rocks. Everything’s been touched by the tumult of that period.”
One thing’s for sure, according to Gaddy: He hears “I just moved to Longmont” all the time. “A lot of new blood is in the shop, so to speak, in terms of the customer base,” he says. “It’s folks out exploring because they’re excited to be in Longmont. They find it an interesting place to live.”
‘No one really returns records’
Like the old days of Albums on the Hill when owner Andy Schneidkraut was holding court on 13th Street, a large part of Absolute Vinyl’s attraction is the chance to talk records and audio equipment with Gaddy. He has been selling albums in some form or another — initially focusing on record shows— since the late 1980s. As the story goes, Gaddy had the geekdom necessary to curate, and his wife had an impressive ability to make all the other geeks comfortable socially.
Since Absolute Vinyl cleans and grades every single used record his shop puts on sale, the result is never wondering the exact condition an LP might be in when you put it on your turntable at home.
Gaddy says he knows “the ache of heartbreak” from discovering after you’ve bought a used record that it’s not in as good condition as you thought, so he wanted to avoid his customers suffering the same surprise. He remembers selling records on eBay in the late 1990s and early 2000s and needing them to be in pristine condition to avoid bad reviews from “fussy” European and Asian buyers. He says that contributed to his obsession with cleaning and grading.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I get people who come to the shop and say, ‘I only come to your shop,’ because as record-shoppers the condition of the record is really important,” he says. “I want people to know what they’re getting, and I want what they believe they’re getting in the shop to hold true once they get home. As a result, no one really returns records.”
Other shops offer a big selection of music-related products, from band T-shirts to bobbleheads and lunchboxes, but Gaddy focuses on records and stereo equipment. Although he’s changed locations a few times, it hasn’t been for lack of business.
“I proved my model [at Absolute Vinyl’s original location],” he says. “It was popular. I was in the black from the first month, and I stepped into much bigger rent [on Arapahoe], swallowed hard, got a much shinier, brighter place. By then, things were sort of turning around for the economy, and that was a great spot for eight-and-a-half years.”
Now more than a decade since opening his first location, he and Annie have found a happy home for Absolute Vinyl. Just don’t ask Gaddy to say he’s satisfied.
“What the hell, I might as well get existential: I don’t know if I’ve ever felt at home anywhere,” he says. “I’m always looking for what I can do next. I think I’m restless like that.”