ATASCADERO — The sandwich board sign is not up on the curb yet at the record store in Atascadero. And yet the small but joyful subculture of record collectors know it’s located somewhere near the ARTery. Just look for the flowers and the red door. But a better way to find the newly-opened Traffic Records would be to follow that light jazz drifting down the sidewalk.
The day our paper arrived to see downtown’s newest, hippest child of Atascadero’s downtown, Manuel Barba, co-owner of Traffic Records was playing the soul jazz of Hank Mobley. A soft white disco ball created movement on the walls decorated with classic music posters. A breezeway stacked with clean oak vinyl records lined the 400-square-foot store. The square rows of records in handmade light wood bins are organized but not alphabetized.
There’s a psychology that goes with the system.
“I think shopping for music and looking for music is a different kind of therapy,” said Barba, who is formerly a marriage and family therapist. “It’s one of the most rewarding factors of this whole experiment. People walk in here happy and they leave happier. It’s really quite remarkable.”
Barba knows well the common behaviors vinyl record collectors share: they are a multigenerational culture of archivists, stubborn to embrace impersonal new technologies. As guardians of the past musical format, vinyl record fans will devote an entire afternoon in the store, to find that feeling of nostalgia, to amass more for the collection, or to simply pursue and find a rare treasure.
Barba is a father of three children: Beatles-loving McCartney (as in Sir Paul) age 3, calls her father’s place “our store.” Mateo, age 10, is a little soccer player. Barba’s son, Joaquin, age 12, is the only other employee at Traffic besides his dad.
To Barba, music is connection. He held up a photograph of some of his newest regular customers, a 16-year-old girl named Carmen and her mom. On her last trip to Traffic the young lady had flipped through the colorful covers to find a Sonic Youth album and a Red Hot Chili Peppers album. This is the music Barba was listening to at her age, and he thought her taste in music was really cool, and he was even more impressed she knew the exact order of the Chili Peppers albums and names of all the musicians in Sonic Youth.
“She embodies the spirit of why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Barba said. “It’s not just about flipping records… When people come in here I think they feel comfortable. We have good customer service and I just want people to leave here happy.”
Bowie records sell out as fast as he can get them, Barba said. He offers a fair price on used records, and so he had a nice selection of grunge. Some rare finds, though were a Primus “Suck on This” album, the first Pixies album (which Barba said you can almost never find on vinyl) and a first run, almost-never-been-listened to edition of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” In the jazz department, an original Blue Note recording of Kenny Dorham sat propped up on the top of the bins.
The rare Nirvana album goes for $250, but most of the records at Traffic go for about $10. Barba might knock off a couple bucks just for kicks. Joaquin, who works on Saturdays, Traffic’s busiest day, hand-makes the little buttons at the check stand. His little paper sign for the buttons is hand-written in pencil. Flipping through the mix, shoppers can find anything from the Suicidal Tendencies to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Barba said he wants to get these records circulated back into the community so that, in turn, he receives an energy back which he calls “record karma.”
“We’re not an antique store,” he said. “We’re not a museum. We are a competitively-priced record store that caters to every person in this community. We get kids who come in with 20 bucks in their pocket and walk out with two records.”
Barba’s Master’s is in clinical psychology. His former career was as a marriage and family therapist and mental health social worker for the County of SLO. Barba worked with migrant/immigrant populations as well as teens and adolescents.
Full, robust Hank Mobley was playing on a fine-tuned vintage Luxman PD-277 turntable from the 70s, the Cadillac of record players. Not everyone knows how special a Luxman is, but Barba said there are a select few who come in and notice. The music was coming out of a Sansui receiver, filling the room through tall Vandersteens speakers inside the wooden record bin, which Barba designed to act as a bass cabinet. He said though he and his partner wanted a nice aesthetic and quality sound, he still needed to be conscious of the neighbors.
Record collectors are a select bunch. Barba said his store already has a following and has been “up and running” since day one. For record collectors, the word is out already, and without any advertising. They’ve sold close to 1,000 records since they opened this winter, and his services are expanding.
“We’re the only game in town, so...” Barba said.
Barba said he will arrange a grand opening sometime in mid-June.
“We pushed it back because we’re really in no hurry,” he said, but reassured, “but it will be a massive party,” with guest DJs from L.A. and all the bells and whistles..
For now he has a store filled with high-quality, gently-used records and record players, many from his own collection over the years, of which he found at the SLO Record Swap, an ongoing pop-up record fair he co-founded, but Barba and his business partner Dawn Neill are taking their time rolling out the merchandise for a buy/sell rotation of strictly vinyl. There will be mugs, T-shirts and mid-range to high-end sound equipment for sale. Traffic Records also just became a ticket outlet and box office for Eventbrite.
The store will also serve as an art display for local artists. The first rotating art series will begin this May 18.
On the counter were some flyers for some music, like a White Blinds show coming up at the Siren in Morro Bay. These are bands that Traffic Records presents because Barba is passionate about them. He’s brought dozens of shows to SLO, but he does it quietly, without much fanfare. He was the one who brought SLO Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings for the first time 20 years ago. He brought us Digable Planets and other subculture hip-hop bands as well as musical artists from Mali, Africa.
“I just throw shows whenever the mood strikes me,” Barba said. He worked many years as a concert promoter and DJ with a Night Train show on KCBX public radio.
Music is Barba’s passion, but he said his biggest interest is spending time with his family. Barba has lived all over SLO County for 20 years now, but he’s originally from East L.A. He spent a good part of his life in Santa Cruz.
Neill works primarily as an Anthropology professor at Cal Poly, who takes humanitarian missions to Fiji, building sea walls and channels to protect villages from rising sea levels and environmental dangers.
Barba said he will take a look at any records in any genre to buy. He has amassed a large library of records still to be set on the shelves, so the selection will be ever-changing and fresh for the eager record hunter, carefully curated by Barba and Neill.
Hours for Traffic Records are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Traffic Records is located at 5870 Traffic Way in Atascadero. For more information, please visit www.trafficrecordstore.com or call the shop at 805-464-2994.