Almost a full month of women owned record store features, and we’re loving it! Today we introduce you to Candace Hall the the proprietor of Bitterroot Records in Livingston, Montana. It’s so great seeing women paving the way in their towns across the world to create a space for their music loving community, and Candace is one of them.
When asked about her free time, “I may have more skeins of yarn and stacks of books than I do records…gotta embrace the indoor hobbies with the eight months of winter we have in Montana”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
On a whim! After moving to Montana from Texas and applying for a bunch of jobs I didn’t really even want, I worked up the courage to inquire about a tiny shop space that was available in town. I wanted to try doing a record store because there wasn’t one in the vicinity that had the kind of stuff I was into, and I decided I could do my best to fill that particular void. My logic was that if I was missing it, then others probably were too, and luckily, that was the case!
What is a day in the life like?
Walk to the shop, figure out the vibe of the day and choose a first record accordingly, and see who shows up!
What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
I recently had a very cool Japanese actor come in, who had been working on a film project nearby. He looked through every bin, and cleaned me out of nearly all the jazz records I had! I was most tickled that he got himself and his son Bitterroot Records sweatshirts. It’s so fun to think of my little hole-in-the-wall shop being represented on the streets of Tokyo.
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?
I’ve had some rare pressings come through that collector’s were fighting each other over, but the thing that probably made me the most happy was a sealed Wayne’s World soundtrack. I opened it on a FaceTime call with my best friend, hoping there would be a poster or something fun inside, there wasn’t, but I still kept it.
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
When the pandemic hit, my shop had been open for about 9 months. Not a lot of time, but enough to have established a bit of a following. Somehow, despite doors being closed for what ended up being an entire year, I was able to keep the store alive through local record delivery and online sales. So many kindhearted, music-loving folks in this tiny little town ordered handfuls of albums, which I would deliver to front porches every week. Sometimes I would catch people for a distanced chat that was their only human interaction during the darkest times of the plague. This community that was so new to me really kept me afloat. This fact still shocks and humbles me.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Have a niche you want to fill that you feel comfortable and passionate about, and also have a desire to keep learning about.
Expand as you figure out what your customers are into. It’s always a gamble, but good taste will attract good folks! Have fun with it! And, make friends with other record stores! We all want each other to succeed.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself?
My dad pretty much forced me into it, being surrounded by all his stacks of old blues albums as a kid. I’ve gone through stages with it, and after moving so many times, I’ve narrowed my collection down quite a bit.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
The fact that business is so hard to predict here. Livingston is a popular tourist town in the summer, because of our proximity to Yellowstone National Park, so sometimes it’s crazy busy…and then the winter months can be very long and lonely. I’m lucky to have a pretty consistent and loyal local following year round, but I do worry about the sustainability of owning a small business in these wildly unpredictable times. Being able to afford to buy records is indeed a luxury, and I realize that more and more as prices climb.
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.
The margins on some of the new vinyl releases are just mind-boggling to me. When a new album costs over $30, you begin to question who this is all for anymore. I certainly don’t want to cater exclusively to the elites. The opening of a few new pressing plants here in the U.S. will hopefully ease this a bit, but until then, I just avoid those kind of releases altogether. It’s also extremely frustrating to see prices for certain albums on Amazon – they charge less than the wholesale prices we are able to buy things for, which is a complete racket. I hope people know better than to purchase music (or books!) from there.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
Buy records (or cds or cassettes) from your local record store! Ask them to order stuff for you! Buy music on Bandcamp or straight from the artists you love! Spotify and Amazon cannot be the future.
Anything else you want to share? If not, tell me: What is your favorite music genre or band right now?
After three years hidden down a hallway in my current space, I’m finally taking the next step to move my shop to a proper street-level storefront all my own! Look for a new and improved Bitterroot Records this Fall!