Hometown music mecca no more
By Bruce Eaton

home of the hits
Home of the Hits.
Photo by Jeanne-Thimot.
2006 was not a good year for record stores. Nationally, the revered Tower Record chain closed and liquidated. Buffalo never had a Tower, but we lost something of equal value—a store that was much more than the sum of the records it sold.

The recent closing of Home of the Hits—the independent record store on Elmwood Avenue—was appropriately noted in the local media. In its own way, the store was a cultural landmark, as important to the local arts scene during its heyday as Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. It was there that young (and not so young) people from all over the area who were interested in what was really happening in contemporary music—not what they were being force fed by the entertainment industry—came together. It was a crossroads where careers were launched, ears where opened, tastes expanded and developed, and lifetime friendships and families formed. The list of steady patrons and loyal employees over the years reads like a Who’s Who of the Buffalo music scene and beyond: filmmaker Vincent Gallo, record promoter Bruce Moser, music executive Steve Rabolvsky, the Goo Goo Dolls (and probably every alternative band in area history), concert producer Donnie Kutzbach, MTV / VH-1 executive Tom Calderone, ace deejay Eric Van Rysdam, Amoeba Records founder Marc Weinstein, and on and on. Calmly overseeing this all was owner Jennifer Preston, who had that rare combination of keen business sense and passion for the music that’s needed to keep such an enterprise alive. It’s a cool idea to have a record store, but it’s a hard business to succeed in. Like legendary concert promoter Bill Graham (but without the volcanic personality), Jennifer was able to find the right balance of art and commerce.

Home of the Hits began life on Elmwood in 1976 as Play It Again Sam under then-owner Scott Flynn (Preston’s brother), a mercurial entrepeneur with an odd penchant for disco. It was there that Bill Poczik, a pivotal and almost forgotten figure in Buffalo music history, held court from behind the register. With his long wiry blonde hair parted down the middle and bell bottoms, Bill looked like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers or a Jefferson Airplane roadie. His impeccable taste in music defied categorization, however—and he made sure the store was stocked with bootlegs, imports, and used albums that were nowhere else to be found locally. Word got out and music fanatics from all across Western New York turned the store into their second home. In the era of Frampton Comes Alive and Saturday Night Fever, Poczik championed then-forgotten bands like the MC5 and the Stooges. He seemed to know what punk rock was before it even existed. When the New Wave approached, Bill was already on the shore waiting for it. On one of my first visits to the store, I picked up a used copy of Radio City, an album by an obscure band called Big Star. Bill casually mentioned that I might like the disc and it went into my purchase pile. Within a few listens, I was hooked on what is now acknowledged as one of the most influential post-sixties rock albums. I ended up befriending the band’s leader, Alex Chilton, and even played some gigs in his band: a once-in-a-lifetime experience that began with Bill’s offhand seal of approval. After that, I returned every week, always expecting to hear something new and startlingly good—including an unheard of band from Ireland with the odd name of U2, for example.

After helping to form an entire music scene that still exists today, Bill Poczik left Buffalo in 1980. A few years earlier we had heard Neil Young sing “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” for the first time, and for too long, Bill lived by those words. He eventually returned and worked to put his life back together, but it was too late. He passed away quietly in 1996. Scott Flynn sold the store to Preston in 1982. The name was changed to Home of the Hits and the location moved a few doors down, but the vibe remained the same. It was a connoisseur’s store without the condescending attitude; there were no Jack Blacks behind the counter. A young kid venturing in was made to feel welcome—and usually became a loyal customer. But even under Preston’s skilled direction, business waned in recent years as computers and the Internet took over as the primary means of music distribution for students. Ever the realist, she could read the numbers and decided to take a well-deserved victory lap and then move on. But although the music inside 1105 Elmwood may have stopped, the heart of the store will live on for a long, long time.

—Bruce Eaton


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