When you think about it, a record store is really like a museum, only it allows for its visitors to walk away with their relics. When you stand within one, you are surrounded by decades and decades of recorded voices, sounds, hopes and dreams. Each black circle within its cardboard sleeve is like a covered mouth, ready and waiting to spill countless stories. From anthropological studies of handed down folk songs to the strived attempts of some young adult with a decent voice to try to make it big, and even the wear and tear on the products themselves by the original owners. Each album, each and every record is a captured look into the trials and tribulations of humanities’ past. Holding a key to these varied histories for all of Rochester, New York to experience and enjoy, is the gatekeeper of The Bop Shop, Tom Kohn.
In only five minutes with speaking to Kohn, one could easily see his intense passion for music. His enthusiastic declarations of what and who’s good and what and who isn’t can be intimidating to the lighthearted, but it’s always with good intentions. He’s a man who knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. We need more people like him, especially in the music community.
I think I spent more time in Kohn’s store during my high school years than I did in classes. I even went from obsessive crate-digger to volunteer worker, often shelving the back catalogued and overflow LPs, working the stand at the annual Bop Shop Record Show, and generally just hanging around talking music. The number of artists I discovered through the store is countless, and so is the amount of records I bought there. It was a fixture of the downtown of Rochester, NY. Every time an outsider came to visit, you had to show them The Bop Shop. It was just as important and unique to the city as the oft-fabled Garbage Plate or Jazz Fest. So you could guess my surprise and shock when I heard the news that the store couldn’t renew its lease and had to leave the building back in 2012. I was devastated. Unfortunately I was away at college and couldn’t find the time to return home and pay my respects to the great garden of vinyl that was once like a second home to me.
Luckily enough, The Bop Shop quickly found a new location to relocate within the city, and a month ago I was able to check it out. I was simply amazed. In less than a year, the store looked great. In fact, the shop was so well put together that it appeared as if it has always been there. An immense amount of love, care and multiple hands obviously went into its reincarnation. All of the old familiar concert posters looked perfect where they had been hung (my favorite one, a large advertisement for a Loudon Wainwright III/Tom Waits gig, still caught my eye), and everywhere you looked, records rested comfortably. Even the obscure details look well kept and natural, such as the Edison wax cylinders that line one of the back storage shelves.
The quality of selection also stayed rather high, thank god. I can still remember the utter bliss and disbelief I had when I stumbled across (and purchased) a copy of the first American pressing of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter some years ago and at a very agreeable price. You could find rarities and classics of anything from English folk to jazz to post-punk and beyond. After my recent crate finds and buys, (including Man’s Be Good To Yourself At Least Once a Day, Help Yourself’s Beware The Shadow, John Fahey’s Blind Joe Death and various Kinks bootlegs), I know that The Bop never lost its ability to amaze any type of record collector.
Even if the store eventually changes hands and Kohn, the teacher/curator of cool, goes into some much-deserved retirement down the line, it’s good to know there’s still a classic record store with its doors open for the curious and the die-hard in my neighborhood.