Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 21 – Tres Gatos

Tres Gatos. Translation: Three Gatos. Or a killer New England shop that’s one part record store, one part book seller, one part enoteca and one part tapas (tapash, if you wanna pronounce it correctly) joint. I’m pretty sure the coolest thing about Tres Gatos is how they let the customers DJ. I tried doing that at a Wendy’s once and it didn’t go over too well. I talked to store manager Phil Wilcox about Gatos, tacos, and winos. Dig it.

Tres Gatos
470 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, MA
857 719 9294

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Tres Gatos is a Spanish style tapas restaurant and wine bar in the front, first rate record and bookstore in the back, While we do stock used vinyls, CDs and books, we specialize in new titles, ranging from the latest bestsellers to obscure or cult choices. Guests at the bar are encouraged to request music, bring in vinyl from home to play during dinner, or bring drinks back to the store and hang out. The idea, one which sounded odd at first but has happily caught on, is to feel like you’re over a friends house for a dinner party, enjoying great food and drink and exploring a curated record and book collection.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I was lucky enough to meet David Doyle, the owner of Rhythm and Muse, the store he operated for years before expanding into Tres Gatos. It seemed to me that he had a passion, and a flair for knowing his customers and what they wanted. When I’d go out in Jamaica Plain, I’d see people with vinyl or books under their arms that David had sold them and it seemed to me that he was a trendsetter for our little corner of heaven in Boston. I wanted to do that too. And so I came on board as a clerk at the old store, and when Tres Gatos opened, David gave me the gift that every nerd from the suburbs wants – the chance to run a book and record store, and one with a bar in it to boot!

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
New England has so many great stores, with different themes and strengths and followings. I love Stax Of Wax in Provincetown for prices, Bull Moose in Maine for selection-Mystery Train in Gloucester, MA for the same reasons. Nuggets on Commonwealth Ave in Boston is a landmark, too. Same for Cheapo Records in Central Square.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We’ve been lucky enough to have a solid neighborhood following and regulars who get us through the tough months. We operate in a place with a massive college and undergrad population and the kids love records, but when they go away during the summer it is our neighborhood regulars that pull us through. The restaurant brings in all sorts of business from all over the state and New England, and we’ve received some great press. We opened in February 2011, but I don’t think we hit our stride until December of that year. Since then, the business has been steadily growing, and Record Store Day 2012 was the busiest day we’ve ever had.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
I think you need to be a friend. I think you need to be a place where people want to go, hang out, have a beer, spin a vinyl, hang out, and eventually, you’ll build up a connection where any record these folks need, they’ll come to you. It’ll turn back the clock and make the idea of a download simply silly, but only if you build up a rapport and a mutual respect. They go out of their way to come to you, you have to go out of your way for them. The days of the lazy clerk behind the desk reading the paper is over. You need to open up a dialogue. And also, stock interesting things. Stock the hits, the no-brainers, but also things that are odd, conversation pieces, hard to come by. Things not just for the classic ‘collector’ but also for the casual fan who wants something to show off.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We have such a multi-purpose space here. Admittedly, we haven’t done that much directly with labels as far as promotions go although the odd promo record or t-shirt is always nice. We’ve tried our hand at having live music events, and its been a success. Rock, jazz, blues, flamenco guitar, all sorts of things. We’ve also had some in-store book events and signings.

7. Why do we need record stores?
We have to try to keep some things tangible in this world, and to keep some places as meetinghouses, forums and hang outs for all the misfits out there. Record stores tie a community together. We have a guy in a business suit talking about blues with a kid with cut off sleeves, covered in tattoos, on a nightly basis. Its amazing. I’m 24, so I’m right on the border for this, but I am part of the last generation who knew the novelty, the excitement, the fun of waiting around for a song you wanted to come on the radio. The joy when it came on, the dash to the tape-recorder, always missing the beginning of the song, to get it recorded. You were young, couldn’t afford CDs, couldn’t get a ride to the mall and there were no downloads. Music just seemed more special. Record stores keep it special. When someone comes who doesn’t know what they’re looking for and then they find it – Nico or Dusty Springfield or some Ornette Coleman record – and they light up, it’s so great to watch. It means alot more then clicking a few buttons on a computer and getting instant gratification.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Crunchy, and full of meat. A soft taco is just a burritos boring cousin. And never fish.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
I’m big into the new Magnetic Fields record, I’m loving the new Justin Townes Earle, I think Dr. John’s latest might be the best record of the year so far. I’m listening to all sorts of stuff. My most listened to list right now would be Chet Baker, Destroyer, Love, The Zombies, Tom Waits, a bunch of other stuff. This is an amazing time for music. Great music is coming from every direction.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I love looking out and seeing people drinking, talking about music, hanging out. It really is like a house party. People come in as a couple, or a group of four, and end up sitting, and eating, with three or four new people, just because they ALSO like Delta Spirit or Miles Davis or whoever. A lot of relationships start here. A couple who got married dropped us a line to say we were a first date. It’s more, hopefully, than a place to shop, or eat, but it’s also a place to meet, to talk, to see and be seen. And I love the beer.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
In the short term I want to keep expanding our network and get people excited about music, about owning vinyl, turntables, make it a thing buzzed about around town. We’ve done pretty well on that front so far, I think. Long term, I want all of Boston to buy its records here. I want to beat online competitors, as well as Newbury Comics, the behemoth that has had, until now, somewhat of a monopoly on new records in New England. I want people to drive in from out of town, not to just shop, but to have an experiance, have a night. Eat delicious food, have good drinks, meet new friends, and buy some great records.

2 thoughts on “Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 21 – Tres Gatos”

  1. Its been closed for a year, something I didnt know when I did my interview and definitely not when I took a record buying trip to Ptown in August haha

    -Phil, the Tres Gatos guy.

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