Sight and Sound - Roslindale's Music Shop
by Nick Elias
It's important for present and future generations to have access to stories and info about the towns and neighborhoods they live in and what businesses existed in many of the same old buildings that are still in use today. Recently, I returned to Rozzie Square to join my sister, Vicky at the Rialto Barber Shop, which she bought a number of years ago. The Rialto is 101 years old and has it's own wonderful history, but barber shops and salons will always be a necessary, important part of any neighborhood, anywhere in the world.
The local record shop, sadly, is more of a sweet memory for most cities and towns today. I was working as a barber for 28 years in Cambridge, before I left to come back to Roslindale, but before that I ran a record / cd shop in the square. Sight and Sound was a classic neighborhood record shop that opened on Corinth St. in the 70s. It's owner, George Aymie, was a wonderful, knowledgeable dealer who knew everyone in the square and was the musical heartbeat of Roslindale for over 30 years. I was (am) obsessed with 45s and albums and had been a fanatical customer of George's since I was about 11 years old. By the time I was a teenager, he realized he had a kindred spirit on his hands and hired me part-time at the shop.
I was in my glory, and went straight to work, learning the ins and outs of the business. Sight and Sound was, like many record shops of the day, expert in always having what everyone wanted on hand in a very small space. No easy task, but with a little imagination, and some well-placed, custom-built cases and shelves, the shop was well-suited for its job. In those days, long before the internet and streaming services, it was up to the dealers themselves to know what was hot, what was not, and what was still selling and for how long. You also had to know the area and who wanted what. There were the 45 customers (not the pistols, the small records with the big holes ), the lp customers, the cassette tape customers, and later on, the compact disc customers, and they were all somewhat divided into age, sex and race. But all would congregate and chat with each other in our store.
You had the youngest. who were into the flavor-of-the-month songs and artists, the teenage girls who were snapping up New Kids On The Block, Michael Jackson and New Edition tapes (and earlier, Donny Osmond and Bay City Rollers and such ), and as the neighborhood kids started to split up into musical factions, you had to have the latest rap and hip-hop, the newest heavy metal and cool t-shirts and posters, adorned with those same stars. And somehow, in the midst of all this, George had room for baseball and pokemon cards along with novelties (gag gifts) for the youngest. What a salesman he was !
l to r: Nick Elias, John, George Aymie.
Hey John - if you're still in the area , what's your last name?
Every day was a master class in creating interest, excitement, and finally sales with people from all walks of life. In one hour, I would stare in amazement, while George would sell item after item with his energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. A Temptations tape, a Beatles cd, an Aretha Franklin 45, a Kiss poster and some Silly String. Throw in some buttons, cheap sunglasses and a couple of iron-on patches and you're set for life!
I learned how to treat customers as friends and that's who they were. It was a big, fun, loud, extended, dysfunctional family - the most fun I ever had! I also expanded my knowledge of records, old and new and between George and myself, we knew or at least knew of any record. tape or cd that our customers would ask for. Our motto was, "Don't know it ? Just hum it ! " In those days, even if you didn't have what they wanted, you could just make a call to Bobby in Quincy or Steve in Everett and sure enough, one of them had it. And once or twice a week George and I would make the rounds to some of the other shops or One-Stops (distributors) and pick up the last week's requests. It was a cool brotherhood of local shops that all knew each other.
George and I made the best team ever and I was and am very proud to have worked with him. I became a full-time partner with him by 1988 or so, and we moved around the corner to Poplar St., facing Adams Park. It was a beautiful, larger shop and we went to work right away, filling it up with more goodies. (including, by this time, used video games, run by Eddie who knew his stuff as well). We were one of the few places that sold new and used cds, tapes, lps and 45s as we tried to keep up with changing times, changing formats, and a recession (we were one of the first shops in Boston to start selling used cds as discs had been around long enough by that point to start reselling them).
However, a much larger problem loomed by the start of the 90s--Mega-warehouse cd outlets began moving into Boston, and as cds became the overwhelmingly popular music format, that's what they were filled with. It was no contest--Tower Records, HMV, and later, Virgin started siphoning business away from the little guys who always had a place in their world, and unlike smaller chains, like MusicLand, Strawberries and Popcorn, these Leviathans, became THE place to go for your music for most young people, leaving Sight and Sound and many others to scrape along, with an ever-dwindling customer base.
It was a very tough decision to make, but by 1993, after going to New England Hair Academy, I became a barber and went to Harvard Square for the next 3 decades. Sight and Sound limped along for a few more years but the golden era of the friendly, neighborhood record shop was over. When I returned to the Square (now a village, apparently) as a barber, I found it was full of life and young families who mostly had never heard of our little shop which had all together been in 4 different locations in the square - top THAT, Bank of America ! Still, it was good to be home again and reminiscing with some of my barber shop customers who, as kids, frequented our little funhouse, with their allowances and loose change.
Long live SIGHT and SOUND !!!!!!!
- Nick Elias, February 2022