Yolanda Stratter, who ran Allston-Brighton’s iconic Disk’overy used books and records shop, dies at 78

Yolanda Stratter, with her cat, was the proprietor of Disk’overy in Allston, then Brighton, for decades.
Yolanda Stratter, with her cat, was the proprietor of Disk’overy in Allston, then Brighton, for decades.Mike Powers/1989

Amid the caverns of culture inside her shop Disk’overy, customers often heard Yolanda Stratter’s voice before she emerged from an aisle, too short to be seen among the towering piles of books and racks of vinyl records.

“She would greet you — ‘Hi, sweetie.’ She called everyone sweetie,” said Margaret O’Connell, one of many in Allston who started out as a customer and became a longtime friend. “Even though she was a brilliant woman, she could not remember names, so everyone was ‘sweetie.’ ”

Ms. Stratter, who was 78 when she died July 23 of pancreatic cancer that had spread, did more than just turn her shop into an inviting, iconic place to peruse used albums, books, and videotapes.


She was also among the merchants who helped turn Allston, where Disk’overy operated for a quarter century, and Brighton, where it relocated for several more years, into neighborhoods where many new residents now choose to stay, rather than leave when they can spring for a tonier address.

“I love music and books,” she told the Globe in 2012 as she prepared to shutter the final Brighton location of Disk’overy, whose fortunes were buffeted by changing shopping habits and online availability of the merchandise she sold.

“It’s a nice place,” she said of her store. “I’m happy.”

No price could be placed on the joy Ms. Stratter offered to customers free of charge.

“She was such a warm and friendly and outgoing person,” said Thalia Zedek, a musician who, like O’Connell, walked into Disk’overy as a customer and walked out as a friend. “It was a great store, but it was her who made it so great. She made a really big impression on everyone who met her.”

The store was just as unforgettable, and subject to the occasional avalanche of tottering books.


Ms. Stratter attended a benefit music event for her store, held at Great Scott in Allston in 2011.
Ms. Stratter attended a benefit music event for her store, held at Great Scott in Allston in 2011. Jean Vallon

“It was organized chaos, but she really knew where everything was,” said Leah Kinthaert, a longtime close friend and customer. “People who know her and respected her realize how much work she had to have done to buy all those books and organize them. That was part of the charm of the store. You would go in looking for one thing and come out with something else, too.”

Now and then, Ms. Stratter’s father or a sibling spelled her, but for nearly every day of the store’s 30-plus years, she was behind the counter, assisted by a series of sleepy cats — including her final one, Mono Loco.

What she sold wasn’t so much eclectic as exclusive. “She did not carry junk,” O’Connell said, adding that if someone dropped off books that didn’t meet Ms. Stratter’s standards, “she’d leave them on her stoop for people to have for free.”

Bestsellers rarely found a home in the display window. “I can’t do it,” Ms. Stratter told the Globe in 2006. “Against my religion.”

Instead, customers might spot 19th-century novelist Jane Austen sharing window space with 1970s counterculture darling Tom Robbins.

Such selections “show a conscious design,” Rob Price wrote in one of the pieces collected in an online pagethat paid tribute to Ms. Stratter and her store when it was still open. “What she puts out there makes you think she might be some sort of guru.”

She carefully picked each offering and seemed to have absorbed so much of her stock that she could dispense advice to every shopper and words of praise for anything anyone chose.


“She was always recommending something,” Zedek recalled. “Every book or record I bought from her she seemed to have listened to or read. The store was curated by her.”

Ms. Stratter “knew all about everything,” O’Connell said. “She was constantly reading. And she always had all kinds of music blasting. People appreciated the music — they would learn about music from her. They’d say, ‘What’s this?’ And it would be Miles Davis.”

Disk’overy became a place to nurture new tastes in writers and musicians — not to mention new friends, who sometimes met for the first time in the store’s aisles.

“She seemed to cultivate almost a salon atmosphere,” Kinthaert said.

“It was like a café. You could go and hang out there for hours. I could sit on a milk crate and read for a good three hours with my coffee,” Kinthaert added. “She wasn’t just trying to sell you a book. She was really invested in young people and was interested in your education — and in learning from people as well.”

Ms. Stratter would accompany much younger friends to nightclubs, concerts, art openings, and lectures.

“We went out to see bands all the time,” O’Connell said. “She danced and danced. She wouldn’t get off the floor. She had total energy.”

Indeed, her energy was so endless that along with being stunned to hear that cancer would quickly end Ms. Stratter’s life, friends were surprised to learn she was much older than they thought.


“I never knew her age until recently when she said, ‘I’m almost 80,’ ” O’Connell recalled, “and I said, ‘What?’ ”

The oldest of 10 siblings, Yolanda Stratter was born in 1941 in Lima, Peru, a daughter of Augusto Puemape and Irene Stratter. She and many of her sisters and brothers use one or both of their parents’ last names.

The family ran a store and restaurant in Lima. Ms. Stratter left behind her formal education before finishing high school to work and help support the family.

A connoisseur of culture, she helped out at the cinema next door to the family business, where she watched movies and became enamored of America.

“We were having a hard time. We needed to get out,” said her sister Soledad Stratter, who lives in Allston in a house she and Yolanda shared with many relatives. “She wanted to come here because she was so fascinated with life in the United States. She decided she was smart enough to get out of the country and help us.”

Ms. Stratter emigrated in her early 20s, working in various jobs before launching Disk’overy, and she encouraged the rest of her family to follow her.

A service has been held for Ms. Stratter, who in addition to Soledad leaves five brothers, Virgilio of Peru, Cesar of Allston, Julio of Miami, Roberto of Revere, and Dino of Brighton; and three other sisters, Rita and Irene of Allston, and Dora of Brighton.


To satisfy her wide-ranging cultural appetite, Ms. Stratter went to performances of all sorts. She might dance the night away at a club one evening, then spot a Harvard University listing and say, “Oh, Susan Sontag’s speaking, we’ve got to go,” Kinthaert recalled.

“She would not miss anything,” Soledad said.

Because Ms. Stratter gave discounts to artists, musicians, and writers who frequented her store, she was welcomed wherever she went.

A Facebook tribute by Zedek drew numerous comments, including from those who left Boston long ago — former customers who had once basked in Ms. Stratter’s affection.

“She introduced me to a lot of nightclubs,” Kinthaert said. “When she showed up at a rock show, people would say, ‘Oh my God, the Disk’overy lady’s at my show,’ and they’d feel really special.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.