Papa Jazz Record Shoppe is a small store nestled on the outskirts of Five Points’ bustling bars and restaurants; a modest storefront with poster-plastered windows and a hand-painted sign marks its presence.
Although it would be easy to miss in the great and furious mecca that is the greater region of Five Points, Papa Jazz has been a part of the community since the 1980s, and those who do wander inside enter a dimension where eclectic jazz drifts from overhead speakers and seemingly every open space is chock full of something music related.
The store’s interior overflows with records, CDs, a few cassettes and even a shelf of movies. Much of the stock is used, although the untarnished plastic of some wholesale items does shine from the shelves, much of which is new music, including everything from recent hip hop and rock releases to remasters of old classics.
If it was just released, there is a good chance one will encounter it here. The walls are nearly covered with posters, stickers and other paraphernalia, a curated disarray that secures the store’s casual avant-garde atmosphere. Visitors comb through racks and stacks, browsing and examining the selection, a tactile experience that store owner Tim Smith says could contribute to the continued appeal of vinyl.
What sets the store apart most is its variety. Sure, a significant chunk of the records do cater to popular genres like rock and hip hop, although even within those categories plenty of obscure records sit wedged between best-sellers. But what is really unique is the attention paid to curating a collection of less mainstream genres. There is a large rack full of jazz, per the store’s name, an eclectic selection of world music, a section for local bands, a shelf dedicated to country and folk and even a comedy section.
If you do not know what you’re looking for, that’s fine too, says Woody Jones, the store’s assistant manager.
"We’re like a giant suggestion box here, like people come in, they don’t know what they’re looking for … if they say, ‘I like this type of indie rock or this type of country’ or whatever then I can say, ‘Well, you might really dig this.'" Smith agrees, saying "the most important thing is your staff has to be knowledgeable about music."
But do not be intimidated. Stereotypical images of a record store crowd might conjure punks and hipsters, mostly young, mostly white people with trendy hairstyles, eclectic tattoos and farmers’ market tote bags full of locally sourced kombucha in tow. One might think of bearded guys in flannels looking for the latest Father John Misty or Sufjan Stevens album, or of mom-jeans clad teens taking Instagram photos in the aisles while they search for the latest local underground lo-fi electro-rock, or some other obscure genre you have never heard of.
And certainly, there’s a place for those people here — store owner Tim Smith mentions that a genre he dubs “college rock,” artists like Sufjan Stevens and Mac DeMarco, consistently sell well. But at Papa Jazz, the music and the community it attracts is much more diverse than that. According to Jones, the store attracts all types.
“You get your crazy collectors or you get people who are just casual music fans and you got the die-hard CD people still … and you got the guys who are just into '70s British prog rock and you got the guys who are just into jazz or blues or reggae or whatever,” Jones said.
He says everyone from “grandmothers looking for weird Celtic music to DJs who are looking for things to sample,” shop at the store. But the most exciting part is that while there’s a diversity of patronage, everyone has one thing in common: a love of music.
For Papa Jazz, the record store experience isn’t about musical snobbishness or elitism. It isn’t just about knowing the coolest or most indie bands, or having the latest, most popular album. It’s about lots of different folks coming into this single space for a common purpose.
“You get all kinds of different people with all kinds of different jobs and all kinds of different lives, and they all kind of can come together over this one thing,” Jones said.
And that is pretty jazzy.