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Discover Downtown: Jay Street record store owner sees the future in music’s past

Sunday, August 4, 2013
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Kurt Hellijas picks up an album outside his store, The Re-Collector, on Jay Street in Schenectady. (Brian McElhiney/Gazette reporter)
Kurt Hellijas picks up an album outside his store, The Re-Collector, on Jay Street in Schenectady. (Brian McElhiney/Gazette reporter)

— For nearly 30 years, Kurt Hellijas has collected and sold records. For most of that time, he was a regular vendor at various outdoor record shows throughout the Northeast.

But for the past four years, his record trading has been done in one place — The Re-Collector at 1671⁄2 Jay St. About five years ago, Hellijas broke his hip and lost his job as a metal fabricator, prompting him to start his own business. The small shop, right in the middle of Jay Street, sells CDs, tapes, jewelry and other collectibles, along with the racks and boxes full of vinyl albums that crowd the shoebox-shaped room.

“The opportunity arose, and I took it,” Hellijas said. “I’ve been wheeling and dealing in records for almost 30 years. I used to do all the outdoor shows — Warrensburg, Fox Creek, . . . churches, schools, little things like that. But breaking my hip puts limitations on me now. So I just kind of keep my store as my base of operations now, because I do have to watch out what I do, even though I can walk and stuff like that.”

That’s fine by Hellijas, though. He’s been living continuously in Schenectady for the past 33 years and was born and raised in the city.

“I just love being here, man,” Hellijas said. “I love Jay Street — I’ve been shopping on Jay Street since I’ve been 14, and I just turned 60, so that’s many years.”

With digital music overtaking physical music sales in the past decade, it’s more common to hear of small mom-and-pop style record stores closing down than opening up. But despite some rough patches (“There’s been times when I had to borrow some money to stay open,” Hellijas admitted), he has been able to keep his store afloat largely on the basis of vinyl sales.

His store only sells used records, covering every genre, from jazz to classical to classic rock to Hellijas’ favorite, blues. Prices range from $1 (he has dollar bins out on the street in front of the store) to higher-priced rarities and collectibles. Best-sellers include classic rock standbys like The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa.

“[Records] are making a big comeback; they’re starting to re-press them,” Hellijas said. “A lot of the — I call them ‘young kid bands’ — but they’re making records now, because they are the best form to listen to music on. Digital’s nice, it’s convenient, but it loses the — I don’t know — the softness of the record. . . . I’m hoping that I’m on that beginning wave of a boost of records. If I wasn’t selling records, I would have been out of business by now.”

‘People are fascinating’

His customer base is very loyal, with both locals and out-of-town folks making regular visits.

“I have my regular customers that come in weekly; some of them come in monthly; some of them come in every couple of months because they’re not from Schenectady,” Hellijas said. “People are very fascinating. I get all — I get suit-and-ties, . . . all grades of people. And it’s a lot of fun.”

It’s not just older record collectors who visit the store. Hellijas’ youngest customer is 11 years old.

“He’s been coming in — I first met him when he was 9. He comes in every few months; he’s from out of town,” Hellijas said. “He plays piano — and he’ll buy something from each category, such as, he’ll buy a jazz record, he’ll buy a rock ’n’ roll record, he’ll buy a country record, he’ll buy classical. He takes one of each. Very smart, and you wouldn’t think you were talking to an 11-year-old, that’s how mature he is.”

 
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