Last September, when Newton record collectors Dave Belson and Brian Coleman decided to follow their dream and open a record store, they recognized it probably wasn’t “the ultimate time” to start a new business. However, the Mall at Echo Bridge in Newton Upper Falls welcomed them, and they already have regular customers after opening about eight months ago.
The Mall, about a 15-minute walk from the Eliot T stop, used to be part of a mill complex that closed more than 50 years ago and was converted into office space. But now, six different small businesses are quietly surviving and serving their community — some, for decades — from this very same building. The newest is Want List Records, which celebrated its six-month anniversary in mid-March.
One store owner at the Mall, Steve Lubar, has run Steve’s Antiques for over 35 years, but said he’s worked with antiques for longer. He said he used to work with Eugene O’Neill, an antique dealer who passed away in 2019, before he opened his own store. Lubar would hold down the fort occasionally, he said, while O’Neill made trips to Ireland to collect goods for his store. Steve’s Antiques now deals with a variety of antique goods.
Thaian Smolski has run Echo Deco Antiques, a shop that offers vintage dolls, handmade jewelry and stunning local art, for 14 years out of the Mall. Because of the pandemic, and because she relies on public transportation, Smolski said her store is only open on Saturdays out of precaution.
Nina Idelson of Nina Rachele Decor opened her antique shop at the Mall just before the lockdown phase of the pandemic began, she said, but that hasn’t deterred her from dreaming big. She said she is considering starting a line of her own furniture, creating items like mirrors and desks. Most of the furniture and decor in her shop fits the mid-century modern aesthetic.
Coleman and Belson, who had known each other since working at Boston College’s radio station in the early nineties, created Want List Records, which is open Friday through Sunday.
“Brian reached out to me somewhere in the middle of the pandemic saying, ‘Have you ever thought about opening a record store?’” Belson said. “And I had.”
Before the store opened, Belson had been selling from his record collection on eBay and Discogs — a website where you can buy and sell music in different mediums — under the name WantListRecords.
“Pretty much anybody that collects records has an ongoing list of things they’re looking to track down,” Belson explained. “Whether they’ve read about it, or heard it at someone’s house, or they have to be cautious about their money spending, so they’ll have this running want list.”
Coleman has written books about music history and has been adding to his collection of 6,000 or 7,000 records since the mid-1980s. A lot of the records in the store are from Coleman’s and Belson’s personal collections, along with records sold to them by customers.
“Some of the stuff we have goes back to the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Coleman said. “I would think our sweet spot is the ‘70s and ‘80s. We do have new stuff, but we don’t consciously scour the charts to see what the hot stuff is.”
Belson said he lives in the area and when he was scouting around for places to take up shop, the rent in Coolidge Corner and Newton Centre was too expensive. But the Mall had open spots, Coleman said, and was in an “underserved” community.
“It’s a great community,” Coleman said. “We’re not competing with anyone in Echo Bridge and they’re not competing with us.”
In opening a record store during the pandemic, Belson said, they hoped to bring people together. He said during quarantine, parents have brought their record players and collections out and shared them with their kids.
“The other thing we’ve seen that’s kind of cool is if they put it in a common room in the house, and people are taking turns playing records,” Belson said.
Coleman said their “favorite thing” is when families come to the shop and each pick out a record.
“It certainly gives us a sense of pride that we have enough so that everyone in a family can find something,” he said.
The store is like “training wheels” for Coleman and Belson, Coleman said, since neither one of them had owned a retail establishment before.
“When you’re learning, you don’t learn all at once, it’s kind of slow,” Coleman said. “And we’re trying to figure out a lot of stuff as we go along.”
Coleman said he wanted to learn and experience something new.
“And hopefully not bite off more than I can chew,” he said.
Despite being open three days a week and advertising very little, Coleman said Want List Records has been successful.
“Being a very small retail establishment, we don’t have money to do tons of advertising, but that’s actually fine,” he said. “A lot of people still find us by Googling ‘record stores near me.’”
Belson said he is optimistic about the future of Want List Records.
“Right now, our bins are stocked with really awesome records,” Belson said. “We’d like to have more people come and buy awesome records. It’s really that simple.”
Taylor Brokesh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.