Explore Booksellers all about paper – and now vinyl records, too
For Explore Booksellers General Manager Jason Jefferies, music and books have played important roles in his life and career.
“The reason that I got into books is I grew up playing in rock-and-roll bands since I was 15 years old, and I realized that the lyrics I was writing were terrible,” he said. “The music was good, but what I wanted to say wasn’t translating on the page. When I went to college, I met a literature professor that unlocked the power of literature and the magic of books in my mind. And from there, I was just off to the races. I kept playing in bands, but I became equally interested in books and the stories that books tell.”
Jeffries grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte and attended the University of South Carolina. Upon graduating, he bought himself a roundtrip ticket to San Francisco to celebrate and never flew back. He was hired at a large Borders Books in Union Square and eventually worked his way up to managing the store, making books his full-time career.
“Books, to me, are the original virtual-reality technology,” he said. “You’re just looking at a piece of a tree on a page, and you’re suddenly living inside the mind of someone that you will never meet.”
But as he was pursuing his passions, the industry around him began to change with tech companies like music streamers and Amazon changing traditional business models, making it harder for brick-and-mortar stores to survive.
“When Napster hit (which eventually led to streaming) and people had all the music they wanted at their fingertips, suddenly that killed music stores. And people thought when ebooks came out that the same thing was going to happen to bookstores,” he said. “But a lot of people realized that they didn’t want to have an algorithm tell them what to read. They wanted to talk to people about books and the things that made these stories magical and connect with them on a human level. I think that was partially responsible for saving some bookstores.”
After 15 years in San Francisco, Jeffries made his way back to North Carolina and spent 10 years at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh before relocating with his family to Aspen in June 2022 to run a local institution of nearly 50 years: Explore Booksellers.
His reason for accepting the job was simple.
“I want to make sure that the bookstore survives, and I also just want to spread the love of reading,” he said. “And the geography is beautiful. You cannot match this area. I just thought, why not? I lived on the East Coast, I’ve lived on the West Coast, so why not try somewhere in the middle?”
In the time he’s been managing Explore, he has set out to make the store a community hub and create a salon atmosphere in which book lovers can hang out and share ideas. The former Pyramid Bistro has been transformed into an event space where they host visiting authors. He also hosts a weekly podcast called “Bookin,” in which he interviews authors. The podcast is approaching 33,000 subscribers.
Ever the purist, he recently began offering vinyl records at Explore. The decision wasn’t made from nostalgia but what he saw as an opportunity.
According to an annual report from the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl outsold CDs in the United States last year for the first time since 1987. It shows that vinyl sales accounted for 41 million units, compared to 33 million for CDs.
“I think that the tactile experience of having this object that you put on to a turntable and then you’re really immersing yourself in this 60- to 90-minute work that these musicians have created, you’re having to get up off your couch and flip the record over. It just forces you to listen in a different way. And I think that that’s what a lot of people want, they want to get lost in the art. The physical experience of getting away from the internet for a while is what’s really appealing to people both with vinyl and with paper books.”
He says the community has responded positively to having a place to discover and purchase vinyl, noting that the closest other store offering records is in Grand Junction.
“What I’m seeing is people are buying things across the board. I mean, the first sale that we had, the first day we started carrying records, somebody came in and bought half a dozen Led Zeppelin and David Bowie records, which is about what I expected; but then, the next sale was King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Kendrick Lamar. Wow. You know, folks are coming in for Taylor Swift and Billy Eilish, etc. So, I’m seeing a good balance of the classic rock and the contemporary artists,” he said. “I think what I’ve mostly learned is just how open people here are to new experiences; it’s a great community.”