John Healy of the Hands: Salesman, Web Manager of Hawthorne Stereo

A new series about paying the bills.

"We have one of the largest selections of Nakamichi cassette decks in the world," says John Healy, both proud and embarrassed.

Standing in a room filled with used stereo equipment, Healy notes that cassette decks are not the only archaic audio systems on the shelves at Hawthorne Stereo, located on Roosevelt Way in Ravenna. With a slight shake of his head, he points out such old contraptions as a "Dynamic Range Expander," reel-to-reel machines, and a TV tuner (built in the early '80s, this machine was intended for changing channels on televisions back when some televisions didn't have the ability to do so, but has now been rendered obsolete by the fact that most televisions have built-in tuners). The store, he claims, once carried an old "Disco Bass Booster," which made records sound more like disco clubs. But an employee took it home for himself, understandably.

"We debate all the time about whether it's better to carry less rad shit or more obscure shit," he says. "Like laser disc players—those sit here forever. But then we get some guy who comes in and says he has 30 laser discs and no way to play them, so he buys three."

When he's not playing guitar and singing in his band the Hands, Healy spends his hours here, managing the store's Web site, keeping track of the inventory, and selling cool stereo systems to local radio DJs, Sub Pop employees, and "members of the biggest bands in Seattle." Whereas the employees of nearby audio stores Magnolia Hi-Fi and Definitive Audio are akin to used-car salesmen, Seattle music snobs go to Hawthorne because its employees are all record geeks. To sample stereo systems and turntables, the employees keep their own records on hand. The day I visited, one high-end Rega turntable had Bonnie "Prince" Billy's Master and Everyone, while another played a Sonny Rollins and Thelonius Monk record.

Yet Healy admits most audiophiles want to hear female vocals. "Diana Krall is, like, the audiophile's mascot," he says, adding that something about a high-pitched voice helps them hear the treble a little better.

This isn't the only idiosyncrasy among Hawthorne Stereo's customers. Healy gets guys who tell him every minute detail of how they upgraded their hi-fi, and there's even one guy who, for five years, has been saying that once he wins a lawsuit, he's going to blow his entire settlement on upgrading his setup.

"It's almost funny enough to be a sitcom, with all the customers here and everything," says Healy. "I mean, it'd be an aggravating sitcom, but..."

Few musicians make a living playing music. Day Job takes a look at how they pay the rent.

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