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Capital Conversations: Jim Barrett - Music Keeps You Young

By: Danielle Modica | May 2, 2022

Jim Barrett is a Troy local, musician, DJ and the co-owner of the River Street Beat Shop with his son, Liam. A lifelong collector of vinyl records, Barrett started selling at 30-years-old in 1976. Now 75-years-old, he is a husband, father of five, grandfather, and still a strong member of the Capital Regions’ music scene.

“I started to sell records in the winter at colleges freelance around 1976. We did a lot of record conventions around the Northeast too. I got to learn who we could buy from and what sold. I had a lot of fun doing that. That was when you'd go on weekends to Hartford or maybe Poughkeepsie or maybe Burlington. You’d do one day shows and you could do well. It sustained our weekly income in a small town.”

“Never left Troy. I've traveled but I love my city. I have so many fun friends here and places to go. I have no regrets at all. No desire to go anywhere else at all.”

Barrett at the shop’s front desk with three vinyl records

I kind of like what I do, it's pretty good when your job is to listen to music when that's your favorite thing. I enjoy the people coming in. There's some real characters - plenty of them - but I like that. I really, genuinely like the people.

My first store was opened under peculiar circumstances. I had always wanted a store, and I had a paving business with my sons. But the whole time I kept collecting vinyl. One time I went up to a warehouse in Latham, that I used to work in part time, and bought 6,000 sealed albums and we put ‘em in my cellar. The problem was, there was already 19,000 albums in the cellar boxed up and marked. The knuckleheads that worked for me put the records all around and on top of the washing machine, and when my wife Ellen got home from work, she couldn't even do the laundry. So she went ballistic, she threatened to sell ‘em all on me unless I opened a store. And you know when Irish women go ballistic, you just do what you’re told.

Two and a half weeks later I got a store. I asked my friend Arthur to be a partner, he said yes. We had a blast. We were there for about three years, then we moved to another location that was only 18 feet wide by 50. Then, we moved to another place across the way, a bigger store. And then we moved to yet another one. So we had three stores in six or seven years, but they were all a blast. We also started a band called Lawn Sausages, and that's where we rehearsed. So it was a real fun period. It was very enriching for everybody in the music community and that's why I still do it. I love it.

I started collecting records when I was seven or eight. I used to listen to a show in the mid-’50s, called “The Hound” from Buffalo, New York. He's about as good as ever heard. He was fabulous. He played blues, he played doowop, he played a lot of New York stuff. I had a little crystal radio set, which was a blast, and that piqued my interest.

One corner of the shop, full of music merchandise

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica/The ASP

Once, my family was vacationing in Block Island, Rhode Island when I was about nine. My Uncle George took me for a tour of Providence. His friend had a record store there, and he bought me a beautiful little portable record player. At the time it was 25 bucks - now God knows what it would be. It had really good speakers in it and it played all three speed records.

He asked me if I wanted a record. and I remember I said “Sure, Teresa Brewer” - there goes my hip factor right there. The owner said “Ah for God’s sake, give ‘em the top 25.” I got the top 25 records at the time, and there was some rock and roll in there. So I played those 25 records over and over, each side like a DJ. When we had parties, all my friends would let me DJ. I really got the bug at that point.

I wouldn't even want to tell you how good we did in that little dinky store. The first year was crazy because lots of our records were sealed. So we started selling the sealed ones for $10 and the used for $5. It was unbelievable when people just came out of nowhere. Dealers heard about us, we just destroyed it the first year - more than enough money to sustain it for a few more years.

Then, we started to hit the crunch with vinyl. I'm not good on years, but it was when CDs started to overwhelm everybody. We managed to get through, but it was not easy. I was still on my own at that point. I had to take a lot of time to sell outside, like at shows and colleges, to sustain. It was a very dark period for us. It was kind of discouraging, you know, you'd have all the new vinyl releases and nobody would buy ‘em. I was sitting on tons of good stuff. CDs were really expensive too. They were $15-18. Now, we sell them here for $3-5 bucks. It was a pretty sparse period for record stores.

I continued to buy records because I just had this gut feeling and it was really lucky. Things have a way of turning in your favor if you’re patient or if you're too dumb to get out, which I was. I do think I'm smart. I'm wondering if it was only because I couldn't afford to get out.

Storefront Entrance of the River Street Beat Shop

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica/The ASP

Now it’s a blast again, because these people really like records. You always know there's a limit to what you could make. You're always concerned how long it's gonna last. I have a very good feeling these young people aren't buying records to give it up next year. I think they're in it for a long time. I really do, and I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way. I think there's a lot of people who realize it's here to say. So knock on wood.

This was a passion-turned-career for me, but now it’s my son’s. I travel a little more with my wife and I'm here. I'm here a lot. But his passion is what's got us going, you know, he really is into it. Theoretically, I work for him now. I leave my cute picture and my name in the window, but he's the boss. You know, he knows what he's doing and I certainly have experience so it's a very good combination. I'm the perfect guy behind the desk, and he's the perfect guy to run the business. We both lean to our strengths to make it work and it's been fun. It is fun.

Jim and Liam setting up the shop for its first opening in the early-2000s

Photo Credit: River Street Beat Shop/Danielle Modica

Will I ever retire? No. No, no. I have friends who are retired. They're the most unhappy people. Slow down, yes, but not retire. I still work for my boys part-time doing construction paving estimates. I love it. I make sure it's fun. I don't let it get out of hand. You know, I don't get too serious about anything. I try to keep it loosey goosey.

I'm not the type of person that would possibly sit in an office all night. I tried, it was just a total disaster. I would have fired myself. I like to be outdoors or around music. Ya know, that’s why both paving estimates and this are both good for me. I wouldn't want to be anybody else. I'm just glad I am who I am. I have a beautiful family, great friends, and I treasure music. My friend John has always said “music keeps you young,” and you know what, there's no doubt about it. Absolutely.


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