Meet Record Store Owners Across the World – Without Leaving Home

by falsepriest

No two independent record stores are the same, and there’s a vast expanse out there to explore. No one knows this better than Guillaume Ruffat; world traveller, record collector and blogger of Record Stor(i)es [Pro tip: Record Stor(i)es blog is in French, but if you’re using Google Chrome you can right-click to translate all content on the page]. Guillaume is has turned his hobby of visiting record stores into a full-time project, combining his loves of records, travelling and meeting new people into a compelling blog. As well as being a music and vinyl lover himself, he reveres record store owners as preservers of culture, defenders of traditional formats, and champions of creators and musicians. Guillaume is dedicated to putting the spotlight on the people who keep the industry going at a local level and sharing their stories. He’s already conquered much of Europe, but with new record stores popping up across the world every day, the job is never done.

Learn more about the guy who’s giving a platform to record store owners across the world, what inspires him, and a bit about his own record collection:

Can you tell me a little bit about what Record Stor(i)es is?
It is a cultural project dedicated to the figure of the record store owner throughout the world. It’s made out of a series of portraits of these slightly crazy people, who year after year are out there defending vinyl and being purveyors of music. The texts have a literary scope, somewhat like a travelogue, which I believe marks the difference between this project and the numerous websites who only reference record stores from an informative standpoint.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?
I’ve been visiting record stores during my travels abroad for quite a few years now, not so much as a compulsive record collector but more in the sense that I like to discover new atmospheres, meet record sellers and talk to them… And the artistic project was born out of this practise.

How long have you been doing it for?
I started doing it seriously in early 2015 when I opened the recordstories.fr website. The end goal remains making a book based on the whole endeavor, which I still hope to be able to publish in 2018.

You’ve been to a lot of places in Europe – where do you still need to go?
Scandinavian countries have a considerable culture of vinyl and I have yet set foot in Norway or Finland! My journey hasn’t taken me to Ireland yet either, and I’m sure there are a few wonderful stores to be found in Dublin!

Photography by Antonia Kosmidi

Do you have any plans to travel and document record stores beyond Europe?
Yes, the project has a worldwide scope. I’ve dedicated the past year to travelling and meeting record store owners throughout the whole world. I took a year off of my work as a librarian in Paris in order to travel to North and South America, Asia and Australia! I went to 25 countries and met hundreds of record store owners. The project took on a much more important scope during that period of time.

Is there anywhere you’re not really interested in travelling to at all?
Not at all, I’m interested in any and all geographical area where I can find record store owners willing to discuss their job to be found! I’ve never been to Africa. There are a lot less store owners over there, and it’s harder to find them, but it’s very inspiring for the future of the project.

What’s the most surreal experience you’ve had while doing Record Stor(i)es?
That would probably be being welcomed at 9 in the morning in the suburbs of Belgrade, in Serbia, by two authentic-looking store owners handing me a tall glass full of homemade rakia (strong spirit popular in Southeastern Europe). I wobbled out the door after two hours of talking about Balkan music. This was a magnificent encounter – outside of the much too early drinking. But there are a lot of other stories I could tell. I even got an offer to become an associate owner in a store in Lisbon!

What makes a good record store great?
Its owner. If he/she loves his/her job and the people that walk through his door, then he/she’ll have a quality shop.

Do you ever struggle to put your experiences into words? Or find it difficult to represent other people in your writing?
Oh of course! Nothing is harder than describing a record store when you’ve visited so many of them. You have to capture what makes the place and the people inside original, and that’s not always an easy task. But that’s my thing!

Do you ever hear from readers who’ve been inspired to do something similar?
There is already quite a lot of material in video or photographic form relating to the world of record store owners. For instance, a German guy published a beautiful photobook a little while ago. I think it was the end result of seven years of work. And in the United States you have Michael Eric Spitz’s beautiful work about California record store owners. But I’ve never heard anything about a literary project on this topic.

Photography by Antonia Kosmidi

How long have you been collecting records?
I can’t remember when exactly I bought my first record but one day, my ex-girlfriend’s parents donated me a large part of their record collection. There were records from The Beatles, The Stones and a lot of sixties gems… I’ve tried to live up to this heritage ever since.

What’s the most prized record in your collection?
It may sound paradoxical but I’m not interested in records for their market value. I’m much more driven by emotion. A record from Petr Novác, a Czech singer I didn’t know, that was gifted to me by Magdalena, a wonderful store owner from Prague with an incredible career, will have more value to me within my collection than an original pressing of the Stones.

What’s your Holy Grail record?
Actually, ever since I started travelling for this project, I ask every store owner if he has an original copy of Aftermath in its US edition in his collection. It’s not a very hard record to find but the European edition is more common. I love ‘Paint It Black‘, the opening track on the US edition, so much that I’ve made a little digging game out of this. Not many record sellers have it in stock but they all can get it if you give them a little time. But the thing is, I’m always just passing through! In the end, one record store in Athens ended up having it on the shelves for a very reasonable price. I hesitated and I ended up not buying it. It would have meant putting an end to my quest and as it turns out, I enjoy it much more than actually owning the record. Hence, when I’m home, I still listen to my good old European edition!

Feeling inspired to go on an adventure? Check out the Record Stor(i)es blog, or plan your own record store pilgrimage!

Guillaume’s answers were translated from French by Matthieu Galley