In the late ’90s, Jonathan Sandler was a Nuggets employee, shelving wax in the Kenmore Square. By night, he sang in a metal band heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, the Cro-Mags, and Soundgarden. Little did he know he would be working in real estate years later. And who knew nearly 20 years into that career, he would decide to open a record store of his own?
That’s exactly what Sandler decided to do with Village Vinyl & Hi-Fi. In the four weeks since it opened on Oct 14, the record store has been drawing customers in on the regular to the curious downstairs location at 58A Harvard St. From noon to 7 pm every day, the store is open. Rows of records pepper freshly painted walls. Lining the edges of the store are cassettes and 7”s, a few posters scanning the decades, and a stack of band T-shirts that run the gamut entirely. Most of the records fall under indie, punk, metal, soul, rap, and “good” classic rock labels. With about six employees to help him behind the counter and repairing some gear, Sandler has built a buzz-worthy store that’s perfect for crate diggers and curious music listeners alike.
There are nearly 10,000 records in the store, at least 2,500 of which are his own now up for sale. “Basically my entire personal collection is here, except for my CDs so I have something to listen to,” says Sandler with a laugh. That’s promising for DigBoston readers, because Sandler’s musical tastes growing up took root in thrash metal, rap, and extreme outliers like Celtic Frost. Soon he started attending shows to see Slapshot, Wrecking Crew, and Circle Jerks. By the time he started working at record stores, soul and jazz took a hold of his attention. It’s a wide range of genres that manages to stay in tune with what people in the city, young and old, want to blast out of their speakers when they get home.
“This store is very much a reflection of my tastes,” says Sandler. “We don’t have Bob Dylan records all over the walls, even though they make a lot of money, because I’m not a huge Dylan fan. I like him, but I’d rather put up Otis Redding records or Funkadelic records.”
Most importantly, there’s an impressive hi-fi selection. Village Vinyl & Hi-Fi puts equal emphasis on both halves of its title. “We sell this—stereos, speakers, you name it—for far cheaper than most stores. We take it in, we don’t pay much for it, and we don’t sell it for much either. This is what got the store started, not the records,” says Sandler, motioning to the gear. “It’s a labor of love.”
He’s not exaggerating. The equipment speaks for itself. High-grade wooden stereos from the ’70s, unscratched blackface consoles from the ’80s, and a sea of speakers fill the back room. Right now, the items range from classics like Technic SL-1200s, some with dust covers for the home user and others with nearly mint silver carrying cases for DJs, up to a few silverface vintage Marantz with wooden cases, their heavily weighted dials cleaned up and muck-free. Best of all, the store does repairs with quick turnarounds for competitive prices.
Despite that, Sandler is still on great terms with the other owners throughout the Greater Boston area. “There’s a real fraternity with the other record store owners,” he says. “The Deep Thoughts owners have been in here twice. I’m good friends with Reed from In Your Ear, for whom I actually supply and have been supplying stereo equipment that he sells on consignment for me for about a year. Blue Bag Records came through yesterday, and he was the nicest guy. They’re all awesome. They aren’t just owners; they’re music fans. That’s why you do this: because you love it, you want to share music with people, and you don’t want to rip them off in the process.”
Because he’s lived in Brookline since 1989 and now he quite literally lives around the corner from his store, Sandler knows how important it is to support the community you’re a part of. “It hurt to get rid of Devo’s Freedom of Choice, and watching someone buy the DMC record I listened to all the time as a kid definitely hurt,” he says, “but it’s amazing to know you’re sharing that music with people.”
That joy seeps into everything he does at the store. There’s a hometown touch throughout all of Village Vinyl & Hi-Fi. He asks the name of every customer who walks into the store and remembers to thank them when they leave. He cleans all the records a customer brings to the cash register. He’s there every day, despite working a real estate job. Sandler cares about his customers, and as a community-oriented city, it’s a characteristic that will keep people getting into the groove of his store for all the months to come.