Boulder once had the highest concentration of record stores per capita in the United States, according to Paradise Found owner Will Paradise. In the 1970s, dozens of LP shops dotted the map in this sleepy foothills college town. But after this fall’s closure of the much-revered Albums on the Hill, Paradise’s bright and beautiful downtown space at 1646 Pearl St. is the last store dedicated exclusively to new and used vinyl sales.
Paradise Found has lived many lives in many locations — first as Bart’s Record Shop on West Pearl near Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza, and later by the Village Coffee Shop on Folsom Street. Paradise bought the store from then-owner Bart Stinchcomb in 2016, before moving the newly rebranded shop to its current East Pearl corner lot last spring. It’s exactly the kind of movement through time and space that music captures for the 62-year-old former Whole Foods executive.
“If we weren’t called Paradise Found, we would be called Time and Place, because that’s what music is for me,” Paradise says. “Listening to a song or album, I can tell you where I was working and who I was with. When I got married, when my kid was born — so many of my records point to some specific time in my life.”
Now posting record-high sales numbers during a post-shutdown moment when many other local businesses are struggling, Paradise says the care with which he and his staff curate that experience for others is a big part of their success.
“I’m always telling the staff to think of themselves as sommeliers: Your job is to turn people on to great stuff they wouldn’t otherwise find,” he says. “Once they trust you, they just come in and they’re like, ‘I want to get three albums. What should I buy?’ That’s when it’s fun.”
To help others along the journey of soundtracking their lives, Paradise Found is hosting a new-music listening party on Nov. 18, which the store’s vinyl buyer Patrick Selvage hopes to turn into a regular happening. The event will feature libations from local linchpins like Moxie Bread Co. and Avery Brewing, along with a thoughtfully curated selection of genre-hopping 2022 releases designed to spark conversation and help get listeners out of their comfort zones.
“Let’s say someone just listens to folk. Maybe we’ll play this hip-hop record that might have some folk influence or something,” Selvage says. “You play it and they’re like, ‘Whoa, OK. Maybe I should listen to that.’”
But Selvage and Paradise say events like these, and the store’s broader mission at this particular time and place, go deeper than helping customers find their next favorite album. It’s about fostering a sense of community among people with a shared love of music.
“Right now there’s this craving for social connection for people. We really have a great community and we know our customers by name,” Paradise says. “We’ll send them texts: ‘This album came in, and I think you want it.’ For us, it’s really about that one-on-one experience. No one is doing that kind of stuff.”
And of course a big part of that one-on-one experience starts and ends with the rank-and-file staff at Paradise Found. It’s another area where the store is defying expectations of the market, reporting zero turnover since relocating to the new space in March of 2021.
“At the barbershop where my son gets his haircut, it’s a different barber every three months,” Paradise says. “But at our place, [the staff] are all still here. No one has left. They’re as much a part of the environment here as anything.”
Employee Elise Colley, who has worked at the store for six years, says that’s because the job provides an opportunity to help offer an essential balm against an uncertain world. In some ways, she says her part-time job behind the counter at Paradise Found isn’t a far cry from working in her private practice as an art therapist, where she helps people process trauma through creative outlets.
“The thing that got you through the worst times of your life — I get to share that with people, and help provide that experience every day,” she says. “When someone comes in and says, ‘I’m looking for this,’ you understand that it’s more of a spiritual need than a retail need.”
TURN IT UP: Best of ’22 Listening Party. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, Paradise Found Records & Music, 1646 Pearl St., Boulder. Tickets: $10 at the door, or call 303-444-1760.