Albums on the Hill at 1128 13th Street in Boulder will be open Sept. 1-5 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
At Boulder’s iconic record store Albums on the Hill — one of the oldest businesses on 13th Street — there is little evidence of the looming closure that awaits the neighborhood.
The same primary-colored cartoon sign that has greeted customers for decades marks the shop’s entrance. Its walls remain covered in colorful band posters and vinyl album covers. People of all walks of life still roam the store’s narrow aisles and thumb through its records — college students and those who grew up with turntables, Boulder locals and out-of-town tourists.
Andy Schneidkraut, 69, bought the store in 1987, and has run it ever since.
But now, 35 years later, Schneidkraut and his longtime customers turned friends, are celebrating the store’s fleeting time in Boulder this weekend, with the Last Hurrah.
The Labor Day 2022 sale includes discounted new and used books, $2 DVDs, $1 cassettes, 50% off new CDs and 20% off new vinyl, with discounts for used vinyl increasing to 80% off Sunday and Monday.
Afterwards, Schneidkraut expects his store to “trickle to a close,” he said, wistfully. He’ll keep it open for select hours during the week until he decides what to do with it and his remaining inventory. He doesn’t yet have a closing date, or know who might take his place at 1128 13th Street. But he knows he’s moving on after spending half his life with the store.
In April 2022, Schneidkraut posted on Facebook that he would receive a kidney transplant, and that he expected to close the shop for around a month to recover. At that time, he was uncertain whether the store would fully reopen. When he experienced complications from his surgery in May, which required a subsequent open-heart procedure, it forced him to reevaluate, he said.
Schneidkraut said he hasn’t regularly required a walker for two weeks. But he’s still hampered by physical restrictions that make it difficult to do more than mail off items sold online and prepare the store for the upcoming sale.
“I’m recovering some, but I don’t think I’ll ever recover enough to really run the store on a regular basis,” Schneidkraut said. After he closed Albums on the Hill following his first surgery in mid-April, he said he’s only rarely visited the store, to fulfill online sales and start removing memories from the walls. He used to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days of the week.
Photos courtesy of Andy Schneidkraut, who is seen at work on the right
In 1987, Schneidkraut bought Albums on the Hill from Buddy Day, the store’s original owner who opened it in1976. They became good friends after competing together in a local trivia bowl, and from Schneidkraut’s frequent visits to browse Day’s vinyls.
In a story that may sound familiar to locals, Schneidkraut moved to Boulder after quitting law school in 1976, on somewhat of a whim. He met his wife, married her a year later and, together, they moved to Estes Park, had kids, and owned an Italian restaurant into the mid-1980s.
But music was always Schneidkraut’s love. He had been talking to Day about buying the store for at least two years before they sealed the deal in 1987. Ever since, Schneidkraut said, he’s been involved in Boulder’s entertainment scene, occasionally reciting spoken word at the Dairy Arts Center’s Blind Tiger live music and poetry events.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Schneidkraut said. “I have a lot of relatively close relationships with local musicians, comedians and poets,” many of whom are Album on the Hill customers.
Spin Doctors (left), Ben Harper (top right) and Jack Johnson (bottom right) perform at Albums on the Hill. Courtesy of Andy Schneidkraut
An end of an era
Inheriting the store’s inventory in the 1980s gave Schneidkraut a hefty stock of used records to start off with. That, on top of the nearly 40,000 records and 30,000 CDs he’s accumulated since then, is far more than what he believes he’ll be able to sell during the Last Hurrah sale. He doesn’t yet have plans for how to handle the leftovers.
“I will deny that I’m a hoarder, because I am actually trying to sell the stuff,” Schneidkraut said with a chuckle. “But if you deal with used stuff, you always end up accumulating more than you sell off. That’s just how it is.” Over the years, customers have given Schneidkraut their used CDs and records on top of what he’s inherited, what he’s picked up from estate sales, and what he’s purchased from stores and other collectors.
Schneidkraut continues searching for someone interested in buying what isn’t sold, but it’s not an easy process. That’s partially due to the sheer volume of records — but also the types of records he sells.
Over decades of merchandising music, Schneidkraut has collected many used classical records, soundtracks, obscure folk and jazz albums. But the market for these genres isn’t as big as it is for classic rock vinyls — especially used ones that remain in good condition, which are hard for any record store to come by these days. Today, he sells popular rock albums that are brand-new since, with vinyl’s resurgence, record manufacturing plants constantly remake them.
Schneidkraut believes vinyl’s rising popularity will serve Boulder’s newest record store, Paradise Found Records & Music, which opened last year and will soon be the only record store left in Boulder, though some used vinyls are sold in bookstores and poster shops around town. (Paradise Records used to be Bart’s Records, a vinyl store that started in Boulder in the 1990s.)
“I don’t think the record’s era is over,” Schneidkraut said, “but it may be over for me.”
‘A diehard music guy’ ponders a third act
Schneidkraut is unsure of whether he’ll add a third act to his life, or if the store’s closure will serve as a musical coda, symbolizing the end of a piece of music and, for Schneidkraut, potential retirement. Whatever comes next, he knows that vinyls have come in and out of style repeatedly since their heyday — and has faith they will continue to do so.
“Records have had a resurrection, but the resurrection is narrowcasting,” Schneidkraut said, reaching niche audiences of collectors as well as fans of the bygone medium. Vinyls and CDs were mass-market products in the 1990s — “though I hate to think of them as a ‘product,’ because I’m a diehard music guy and it’s holier than that,” Schneidkraut said. “Over the last half decade or so, records have come back as a niche, in a big way but not in a mass way.”
While Schneidkraut prefers vinyl’s warmer sound — and its ability to capture a musician’s full artistic expression in the way shuffled songs on a music streaming service can’t — he knows most people don’t listen to full albums anymore.
“Many people don’t even listen to a song all the way through,” Schneidkraut said, commenting that people have shorter attention spans because of social media scrolling.
“Tik Tok is just a taste, not a meal,” Schneidkraut said. In light of such opinions, the arc of change that Albums of the Hill has endured becomes apparent.
Technology shifts, and how they affect the way younger generations consume music, is just one of the ways Schneidkraut’s store has been forced to adapt to in recent years. There’s also Covid-19.
Prior to the pandemic, Schneidkraut had almost 20 employees working with him. But when Covid-19 caused him to close shop for around two months at its start, and then require masks, it affected business. Since then, Schneidkraut has manned Albums on the Hill himself. Some employees have stepped up when he needs extra hands, “this weekend, more out of love than anything else,” he said.
To support Schneidkraut and Albums on the Hill, you can buy a t-shirt here. Or buy tickets to Boulder-local, nationally touring comedians John Novosad and Nancy Norton’s comedy fundraiser on Sept. 9 at the Dairy Arts Center, with all proceeds going to Schneidkraut and Albums on the Hill.