Local Music Legend Celebrates 42 Years of Business in Montpelier

by Ashley Witzenberger, executive director of Montpelier Alive

Fred Wilber. Photo by Patty Morgan.

Fred Wilber. Photo by Patty Morgan.

Montpelier enjoys a unique and historic downtown, very much in part because of stores such as Buch Spieler Music. In 1973, Fred Wilber, who at that time was a senior at Goddard College, and his best friend from high school, George Martin, opened Buch Spieler in a single store front on Langdon Street with an initial investment of $3,000. Wilber is a counter-culturist at heart with a passion for music that has taken him, and his dream, through many twists and turns.

Wilber’s affection for his store is apparent when he recalls the early days of sleeping in the back of the store, building the fixtures and record racks that still line the walls today, and when he reflects on the loyal customers and characters he has met over four decades.

These 42 years have brought many changes, including two expansions. Although reluctant at times to accept the changes that have taken place in the music industry, Wilber has weathered it all. After opening the store with vinyl records and smoking accessories, he bought out his founding partner after just one year. A few years later, Buch Spieler added musical instruments, keyboards, and amplifiers — mostly to feed Wilber’s love of being a musician. Wilber’s brother, Dennis, became a silent partner in 1976.

More years passed and, unenthusiastically, Wilber brought in cassette tapes, and then rode the wave of compact discs, better known as CDs, but the vinyl records never went away. In 2004, there was a decline in CD sales and the store returned to its roots, vinyl records. The tipping point for Wilber, and for the music industry, were the more recent advances in technology: streaming, downloading and the introduction of iTunes. These have forever changed the way music is marketed.

Today, in addition to vinyl records, Buch Spieler Music carries more pre-owned audio equipment, headphones, audio accessories, and posters. It offers sound system rentals, and Wilber provides DJ services. The store also sells a line of greeting cards; “Cards in my store are wild, weird, wacky, wicked, witty, and just plain funny. No Hallmark here,” Wilber said. Buch Spieler also hosts in-store live musical performances (once again, Wilber built the stage and installed theatrical lighting himself).

The passion for vinyl records lives on, as Wilber has recently expanded the vinyl collection by bringing in a consignment partner from upstate New York who has more than doubled the inventory at Buch Spieler. They are always looking to buy, sell, and trade vinyl records.

Since March of 2010, Buch Spieler has shared space with The GetUp Vintage, a vintage clothing and accessories store owned by Jeff Thomson and Hanna Bean. According to Thomson, they specialize in merchandise that is at least 20 years old, items in good condition from the 1940s through the 1960s. They carry a surprising amount of men’s clothing, but also have women’s clothing, shoes, hats and jewelry. They are always buying from people who bring in items, or they will visit homes of people with large collections and are happy to keep an eye out for specific customer requests. Thomson says, “This is a great partnership with Buch Spieler; our products complement each other, especially with the expansion of vinyl. We enjoy working together and work on both brands together. It feels like one big store even though it’s two separate businesses.”

Wilber said he owes much of Buch Spieler’s success to Kevin Brown, who worked at the store for 22 years, and is its longest-term employee. According to Wilber, Brown is, “a comrade — dedicated, a great musician, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of music.” Today, Wilber feels lucky to work with Knayte Lander, general manager, who Wilber credits with sourcing their consignment partner. Wilber said he is lucky to work with people like Brown and Lander, who have a deep understanding of the challenges that come with this niche market.

I spoke with Lander for a bit, and his passion for records is palpable, especially when he speaks about selling to others with a shared passion, and how records “can save your life and your personal sanity.” He is eloquent when explaining the history of records, once “a public need, and, today, it’s a refined art.” He enjoys when people find a treasure at Buch Spieler and gets a thrill when sourcing special orders for customers. Montpelier’s location between Boston and Montreal brings in those traveling between the cities, but he estimates that 70 percent of Buch Spieler’s customers are Vermonters and 3 percent are visitors.

Buch Spieler has faced many ups and downs, experienced great changes in Montpelier, and has hung on through it all. It is hard to think about Langdon Street without also thinking about Buch Spieler: for music, vinyl, unusual cards, and retro clothes, shoes and accessories. Wilber takes great pride in being the oldest business in operation under the same owner in the Capital City.