Meet Andrea Belair the co-owner of Belltower Records in North Adams, Massachusetts. Belltower opened nearly five years ago in October 2018 and sells new and used vinyl, CDs, tapes, audio equipment and other musical merchandise. They acquired the holdings of Toonerville Trolley of Williamstown, Massachusetts from Hal March, who had Toonerville for over 40 years. They are surrounded by the Berkshires and just down the road from Mass MoCA in the lively community of North Adams. On weekdays Andrea is a librarian, and her partner Wesley runs the store. They also host shows at the shop and have been curating music events locally as well.
When not at Belltower or her full time job she says: “I spend time hiking. I am a nature person”.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I have always loved music and was active as a touring musician before we moved and purchased a record store whose owner was retiring and reconfigured it to its current name and location.
What is a day in the life like?
I often wake up very early, have coffee, and start working on scheduling shows, restocking inventory, or with accounting tasks like Quickbooks. I go to my day-job during the weekdays, and on the weekends I’ll be at the shop doing little tasks, running shows, or at the counter. It is a huge amount of work so I could not imagine how it would be if there was one person, but the live shows add a lot of time to the business.
Favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
That’s a hard one because we have met so many great people! One relationship I really enjoy is with Hal, the owner of the business called Toonerville Trolley that we purchased to become what we are now as Belltower Records. He retired and had a great collection of harsh noise and a love of Sun Ra, and he is really a great person with a very kind heart.
In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?
Again, so many great things. We had an original self-titled Ndikho Xaba and the Natives album that was purchased and I think made into a reissue, and it’s cool to be a part of making something like that more accessible.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Not enough time! And the expenses of running the business make it more a labor of love, but it can feel like running on empty sometimes.
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
We had a huge opening party for our opening day, but the shop wasn’t open yet due to construction at our space that had been delayed, but we had it anyway. It’s a blur now but was a lot of fun but pretty hectic.
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.
I have concerns about RSD being in the interests of the industry rather than independent record stores. The rising costs of vinyl production and its cost to the consumer is really a bummer now too so it would be nice to see relief there but that could be said about anything, really.
But I do like to see young people getting into vinyl! I brought a record player into a school where I worked and the kids really loved the analogue experience when given the chance. They loved the artwork with the record and were amazed at the sound quality. That was fun.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I have always listened to records from childhood and I collect vinyl in terms of buying records that I want to have for listening purposes. I try to rotate the collection. I almost associate the word collector with someone who collects OG vinyl in pristine condition, which is not what I do, but I am a collector in the way that I have a personal collection that I intend to use for personal listening.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
I had mentioned Hal, but he has been a great resource. His shop was around for about 40 years. I think I got into it cold turkey but he was definitely very helpful.
Anything else you’d like to add:
We have a small label called Half a Million with some exciting things coming up so keep posted.