I always love talking to women who own, or work in record stores. It’s something I personally have not done and the music exploration at your fingertips is enviable to anyone that loves records. Today, I’m sharing the story of Mary House, single mom, stage 3 breast cancer survivor and the sole owner and operator of Curious Collections Vinyl Records and More in Bryan/College Station, Texas. Curious Collections was a dream realized through a family collection and clearly Mary’s drive continues to be her love of sharing music and the love of her family.
When she’s not at the shop or caring for her kids, she spends her time listening to vinyl outside of the ‘office’, attending concerts (or used to anyway), is cooking or sewing.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
In 2016, I was in the middle of a divorce and my dad suddenly died in a car accident. You see, my dad was a collector, so my brother and I went to West Virginia and cleaned out his seven storage units, two of which were climate controlled and filled with vinyl. I loaded up a 26ft moving truck and drove that bad boy from West Virginia to Texas and unloaded it’s contents into the space that was my first location. Since then, we’ve moved into a 2.600 sq ft space and expanded our inventory to include new turntables, new vinyl, posters, Funko Pop right along side the large, previously owned vinyl selection we have.
What is a day in the life like?
After getting my kids off to school in the morning, I head to my store where I spend the rest of the day operating the store and doing everything from cleaning the toilets to all the behind the scenes stuff; employee management, ordering, receiving, pushing products, customer service and retention along with tons of social media. As if being a business owner wasn’t enough, I volunteer in our community and am a single momma to two boys and wear my mom hat morning and evenings. Pre- COVID, I would hustle hard in the evenings, driving rideshare around town. I also rented out the rooms to make ends meet. I feel like there’s a big misconception of small business owners. Some people seem to think that because you own a business, you’re wealthy. After starting this store, I feel I’ve hustled harder than ever bringing in money to pay my bills in other ways as not to take away from my store. Times are a bit different now, and since I’m a high risk individual, my hustle has changed some. But none the less, still hard at it.
What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
I’ve honestly love getting to know all of my customers, especially my regulars, hearing their stories and why they are buying a certain record. But most of all, I love my employees just like they are my own kids. I love seeing them thrive in their element, as if they are all sponges soaking up this knowledge and real life small business experience I’m passing onto them, as they transition from college to adulthood.
In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / the thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?
An original Nirvana ‘Nevermind‘ in near mint condition. It is so pretty, I thought it was a repress! It now proudly sits in my collection at home.
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
Collin and Forest from Surfaces are hometown favorites. They brought me about fifteen of their first album to sell in my store, before they started getting famous. And their first live performance (a few years ago) was in my listening room here at Curious Collections.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Get ready, it’s a wild ride. Starting a record store from scratch with no mentor is tough. But I’m loving it and wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Yes, absolutely! I started my collection when I opened my store. I love finding fun colored versions of albums I love. I’m kind of picky though. Most of my collection are albums I listen to and love front to back. If I don’t enjoy the entire album, I usually end up selling the album in my store.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Two years after opening, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer that nearly killed me. Over two years later, I’m in remission and fitting into my new normal as a cancer survivor. Fighting cancer as a single mom and running a small business at the same time was almost more than one person could handle. However, I’ve come out of it all a stronger person and love showing my boys and my employees that no matter what life throws at you, don’t give up. You can take a bad situation and sulk in it or turn it into something beautiful and inspirational.
Not only did 2019 challenge my ability to keep my store open through my cancer treatments and surgeries, less than one year later, 2020 came with it’s own challenges. As we all know, COVID hit my business hard, but we buckled down and got creative and started stitching masks for our community that brought in much needed cash flow. It’s early 2021 and other local small businesses are shutting down all around us and we are still hustling and pushing hard to continue to survive in this uncertain world.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
Vinyl sales are at an all-time high. I’m loving introducing new vinyl collectors to new music and the beautiful sound that vinyl produces. With COVID these days, concerts are out of the question and vinyl is the next best thing to being at a live concert.
I like to describe the analog sound as having your own personal concert in your living room. Close your eyes and it feels like the artist is playing right next to you.
Not to mention listening to vinyl is a great family activity and a good way to do something together.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Support artists and especially local musicians by buying their music. Also, shop local, when you go out to eat or need something from the hardware store or just want some new music. Make a conscious effort to support local small businesses. When you buy from a small business, you’re helping a little girl get dance lessons, a boy his team jersey, a mom & dad to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. You don’t have to live close to Bryan/College Station to support Mary and her boys, you can shop from Curious Collections online 24/7.
Tell me what you’re listening to right now: