BJ’s Records and Nostalgia is tucked away near the Five Points at 13 Clapperton St. and is a throwback to the days of heading to your local record shop and browsing at the massive selection they had on hand. Owner Bill Loiselle says that he is constantly amazed at the youth that are coming in despite living in the age of online music.
“I do hear all the downside from people assuming that the music industry and particularly the record shop industry is dying because of the surge of downloading music and the popularity of music sites,” said Loiselle. “But we have a steady stream of people in here all the time and what amazes me the most is to see kids and teens, even the twenty-something crowd, come in and buy a classic rock album or something else that generations gone by have listened to. Owning a record store allows me to see first-hand that good music never goes out of style.”
Not only has some music not gone out of style, but the term “everything old is new again” seems to apply to the current trend. Loiselle took ownership of the shop 14 years ago but started as an employee at BJ’s 21 years ago. Back then, Loiselle says, all the rage was the compact disc and vinyl records were being practically given away; a theme that has since changed.
“When I started CD’s were all everyone wanted and cost anywhere from $25 to $30 while a used vinyl record could go for $4,” said Loiselle. “I feel what’s happened is you have a generation that grew up on MP3 and are just used to compression all their lives that have heard this tiny little sound with a lot of bass and all of a sudden they’re hearing something like vinyl which has such a huge dynamic sound that is like looking at a colour photograph for the first time when you’re used to black and white. So I feel that’s what has hooked a lot of people to the vinyl trend.”
The shop on Clapperton has had three different locations and was around for approximately 10 years before Loiselle started and was known as Big John’s. BJ’s selection has music from all genres that appeal to people from all walks of life. While he knows that some people prefer to shop in a big mall, Loiselle wouldn’t change the location and feel of his store for anything.
“We’re not a big corporate store and we’ve always tried to stay small,” said Loiselle. “We aren’t tied into mall rents or the big leases in that sense and have stayed downtown; which is a colourful area especially for someone in the music business. There are folks from literally all walks of life that come through our doors; we have doctors, dentists and lawyer’s offices in the downtown area which is a little more on the higher income scale and you mix that with some people on the lower income side of things or that come a stone’s throw away from the shelters or other facilities. It is a huge eclectic mix of all walks of life being brought together by the one thing that has stood the test of time in uniting us and that is music.”
BJ’s is active on social media and the store information on their websites and other platforms, Loiselle believes that the store is busy most times because of the old fashioned way of advertising, friendly service and word of mouth.
“If I have to give one word in particular it is loyalty,” said Loiselle. “We have had people coming here longer than I have been here as an owner and from them spreading the word to their friends and family who then in turn tell someone else, it gets out there that we are a good place to come to. We have people who come from out of town which makes up for maybe 75 per cent of our clientele, so that is word of mouth right there. As far as our online presence, I believe what helped us there the most was when social media sites popped up and became a tool for marketing, we already had a good name to us and people were commenting great things about the store in a positive way. It’s the age old adage of treating the customer properly and giving all you can when you can.”
A self-admitted jazz-snob, Loiselle says he is also a child of the seventies so he loves his classic rock too, but working at the store as long as he has really makes him appreciate all kinds of music and even vintage trinkets. BJ’s also as a wide selection of memorabilia from movie posters, music lyrics and pop-culture items from many decades that the owner says is more for him than anyone else.
“That’s mostly me being self-indulgent,” joked Loiselle. “Sometimes you get bored selling just one thing and you branch out. I have also worked in the flea-markets and antique malls so I started to become a little more in to the toys, board games and little items that make for a good atmosphere when you’re looking around.”
Periodically in the news one will hear about the old Sam The Record Man sign that is being put up in a new location as a tribute to possibly Canada’s most endearing image of days gone by. The downtown Toronto institution closed down in 2007 after being open since 1937 and the thought was there would never be another like it.
Loiselle agrees that the former music giant should be considered historical but hopes that he and those before have created something as special to the people of Simcoe County.
“Sam The Record Man is always going to be something of a legendary status in the Canadian record business,” said Loiselle. “I don’t believe we’re near that at all but to have people comment on the legacy of our store certainly feels really good for us here. This isn’t just a job for me, it’s my business, my livelihood and those who work here are some of the most music knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. It makes for a fun atmosphere for us during the day and hopefully for anyone who comes in the store.”