Sunday Spotlight…The Woodstock Trading Company


Today’s Sunday Spotlight is with Seth Glass of the Woodstock Trading Company in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We thought this was an appropriate business to feature as we wrap up Jerry Garcia week. We discuss the start of their store, the culture, inspiration…and a couple of left turns.

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Tell me about Woodstock Trading Company. When did it open and what type of goods do you sell? What inspired the start of Woodstock Trading?
“It was on a lark, I guess. I was going to Dead shows, the first one was May 20th of 1984. It was in the Civic Center in Philly so there was no real parking lot scene. I really didn’t know how involved this whole thing was. When I finally went to a show at the Spectrum, there was a parking lot scene and I was like “this rabbit whole runs deep!” I felt a little in over my head, in a way. I was like “these cats are serious”. You kind of realize that, as odd looking as it is, it felt like I was at the Star Wars bar. Then there was this one gig I was gonna go to at the Spectrum, and all my friends bailed. So I said “Hey Ma, how would you like to go see the Grateful Dead?” In 1985 or 1986, whenever it was, she wasn’t the oldest person there. So it wasn’t that strange. I think the structure and nature of it, which at that time I was accustomed to…but somebody from elsewhere, it was like visiting a church ceremony. You feel like everybody seems to know what to do and when. It’s like going to Rocky Horror or something like that. You’re like…everybody’s cheering now for no reason that I understand….somebody says this certain word that everyone says “yay!”. She used to go with me all the time to the stores that were sort of like ours, even when I was too young to drive. None of us were really crazy about these stores. I liked a lot of what they had, but not crazy about the people that worked there. They were kind of slackers or they didn’t care. They were just rude or whatever. The stores themselves were kind of dirty and seedy. They sold a lot of drug paraphernalia and I don’t think any of us were that comfortable with that idea. Like if you want to sell incense and Grateful Dead T-shirts, that you have to have drug paraphernalia. We didn’t understand that. I forget where we were or what we were doing but she was like “What would be involved in starting up a store like that?” I didn’t know. I had no idea. I didn’t take her seriously. But she wanted to know where would we begin. I’m like “you wanna do this?!” She was serious. Meanwhile, she was running a medical practice that had 4 practices, a skin care company, pretty involved stuff. I said, “you’re gonna add this to your repertoire of things to do?” There was no internet, it was like 1986 at the time. So we started to look at Relics magazine and look at the classified ads. That’s all you had to go on. I started making phone calls and even visited the guys at Relics, which was a real experience. We slowly found sources for material. It wasn’t easy. You couldn’t go on Google and say “where does one get wholesale Grateful Dead shirts?” The phone book was our search engine. It was just a slow, organic process. We added things, things disappeared. And we were like “we’re kind of becoming a thing here!” We didn’t realize it, but people were showing up and saying “my friend’s in from Minnesota and we had to take him here”. We were like “we’re becoming a place to be?!” Then it became social where if the Grateful Dead was in town, people would meet here. They’d chat, talk and then go from there. We were becoming a hub of weirdness. People collected tapes, because that was a thing, and they were organizing meetings at our store. There’d be like 20 people there, socializing and talking about tapes. It was bizarre. Our intention, always, was that it was about family. We wanted parents to feel comfortable about their kids being here. We wanted a clean place. We’re not into the drug thing. We’re not against the “drug thing”, whatever you want to call it, we believe in legalizing and all that. But hey, go to a show sober. You’ll probably enjoy it more and remember more, it’ll cost you a lot less and you don’t have to endanger your or anyone else’s lives in the process. But just the idea that you can make a separation..that you can be into the Dead and not be a druggie. It carries a stigma; that if you’re into the Dead, you’re into drugs. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be. But we also knew that the Grateful Dead thing then, wasn’t forever. We wanted to try and create something of a feeling like being in a parking lot of a Dead show but a lot cleaner (laughter). We always looked at the event of Woodstock, 1969, the concept of it, as being an illustration, a demonstration of the direction of youth culture. How they expressed themselves, the music, the words, the politics, and how they behaved at that event was indicative of its time. The same is true for all the other Woodstocks, and people argue “well, the last one there was a riot”. They were basically doing the same thing, illustrating youth culture at that time. Youth culture was reacting to a feeling of exploitation, as being looked at as people we have to sell to. And their response was, and I’m not saying their response was good, I don’t condone rioting, but nobody should be surprised. There they were, in August, with no cover, trying to be sold a bottle of water for 10 bucks. That’s how revolutions start. I don’t think it was right what they did, but I’m not surprised. It was an illustration of the direction of musical youth and culture at that time, just like it was in 1969, it was just different. We celebrate musical culture, not just music itself. The Grateful Dead…it’s really the fans. They’re just a band. It’s the fans that determine what the band is going to become.”

Who runs your store?
“My mother (Gladys) and myself (Seth) are partners. My father (Harvey) is a retired physician and is our shipping department, basically. We kind of amuse ourselves that we refer to ourselves as departments. It makes us feel corporate. There are other tasks that he helps us out with too. We have a HUGE collection of beads (we have more beads than a bead store) and he helps with that.”

So how many Grateful Dead shows have you been to?
“That’s some question. If I had to ballpark it, I’d guess somewhere between 60-70.”

Were they all local shows or did you travel?
“The furthest I went to was San Francisco for a New Years gig. We had a lot of people. We had people that said, “you’re coming to this this year, right? Then these tickets show up and we think we know who sent them. We went there to support some artists doing a meet and greet at the Psychedelic Shop. Great guys! Stanley Mouse, Elton Kelly, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, all these really amazing cool cats. I kind of worked as a gopher, cause that’s what they needed really, and I guess security. Haha. That shows you what kind of a crowd they were getting. (Laughter) I was considered security. They needed a lot of help dealing with the signing and physical work of it. So they were like, “we get to see the Grateful Dead for New Years”. But most (shows) I went to were local. Two or three were at RFK and Washington, D.C. I just didn’t wanna travel. I don’t have the patience. I like to have my own bedroom, my own bathroom. Plus, when I meet people that go to a lot of shows, they’re really picky. It you go to too many shows, you become very critical and jaded. Like “Yeah, tonight was good but the shows up in Merriweather were better.” That’s all I hear from them. I’d be like, “Did you enjoy tonight?” They’re like “I guess”. It devalues the experience if you go to too many shows. Plus, I was in school. It was a pretty serious major so I couldn’t really travel. I also couldn’t find anyone who’s company I could really tolerate for a long period of time without me getting really annoyed with them and I didn’t wanna get ditched. Eventually, everybody gets on the other persons nerves at some point. I just don’t have the time or patience to travel. I love the tour heads to a point, but sometimes it just looks wasteful.”

What do you think made the Grateful Deads’ following so unique?
“I’ve wondered that and lulled some thoughts. They were the only band here in America, that not only survived the 60’s, but continued to thrive and grow through the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s. They were able to evolve musically. Like Jefferson Airplane, when you listen to them, sounds so dated. Pink Floyd evolved. But the whole circus that comes to town…they still are a band of the 60’s, and the people that listen to them try to hold onto the ideals of the 60’s. It was a decade that was highly romanticized. Probably too much so. We still had the Vietnam war, though the war brought out the best in some people. It made some people become political that otherwise wouldn’t have been. They recognized the value in life and how important our country is and how crappy our leadership is. We were complacent. Nobody thought about it until then. So, maybe the fact that they survived the time and maintained the ideal of the time while being apolitical. Up until very recently, the Grateful Dead were not a political band. They did not associate themselves with politicians, not even democrats. They didn’t support Greenpeace, PETA, any of these organizations. They were very careful what charities they associated with. The first one was probably Seva Foundation. Also Rex Foundation. They, as a result, didn’t turn anybody off. But why did they have their traveling “band”? They didn’t say “Hey, everybody follow us”, it just kind of happen. I guess it’s an organic process, where about 10-15 people got on a bus, followed them around and then needed another bus eventually. I’ve wondered myself. Not only why did it happen for them, but why hasn’t it happened since quite like that. It happened to Phish to a point, but they’re younger, the kids are a little crazier. They had a different set of ideals that didn’t quite mesh. I don’t know, it’s a weird thing. The band didn’t choose us, we chose them. You listen to the music and are like “This is good music. It’s interesting. It’s diverse.” During a concert you’re gonna get jazz, blues, rockabilly, reggae, old time music, blue grass, Yada Yada. But what core did it strike? It’s not obvious. Why did this tremendous furry flock develop? It’s a weird communal existence. There’s nothing like it. I don’t know how comfortable they were with it. I don’t know how I’d feel if I looked out into a parking lot, and I was in a band, and saw all this and they were here for me. I’d feel weird about it. I’d be nervous. “We created an army!?” The rock star thing in general I can’t imagine. What it’s like to walk around and see your face on somebody’s t-shirt. How weird would that be? It would spook me. That has to screw with your ego.”

Did you watch or listen to any of the Fare Thee Well shows?
“Yeah. I was actually very impressed. I didn’t go, I was a shlep. I’ve seen the Grateful Dead and I remember them as I remember them and am very satisfied with that. Even if I had the time and money to go, I probably wouldn’t. I just wanted to leave things the way they were. Plus, there were people that never saw the
Grateful Dead in any form, with or without Jerry, and I felt they should go. I’m always pissed off at a show, especially at a casino or something, and people got comped and they have better seats than I do and they don’t even wanna be there. But I was impressed. I was all prepared not to like Trey, but he did a very good job. He didn’t try too hard to sound too much like Jerry. He didn’t try to hard not to sound like Jerry either. It sounded really great. I had no particular expectation. There were some unpolished moments, but the Grateful Dead, and I think it was Bill Graham that said it “the Grateful Dead are not the best at what they do, there the only ones that do what they do”. It’s true. Sometimes they clunk, but you can’t avoid the clunks if you want the peaks. That’s it. Sometimes you’ll come home from a show and think they were really struggling and you get the tape later and listen to it and go “Where was I? This is good.”

What was your reaction and do you remember where you were when you heard the news of Jerry passing?
“It was a Tuesday or Wednesday and I was upstairs at the store. The phone rings and it was one of our attorneys at the time, who was a hard core head, and he was like “Jerry’s gone, ya know.” I didn’t know. He told me to put on the radio. I put on XPN and they were playing “Terrapin Station”. Then, I switched to another station and they were playing a Dead song. Every station I went to was playing a Dead song. It was real. We were just gonna close and put a black sash on the door and go home. I didn’t know what to do. It was like 9:00 in the morning. And then people just started showing up. The store wasn’t even open yet! There were like 100 people here. It turned into a thing. We became where everybody went. Nobody knew where to go, what to do. So we became the place where everybody congregated. We were like zombies. It was a weird experience. Nobody knew if they wanted company or to be alone. So, they kind of had both here. If they wanted to socialize, you could or if you just wanted to sit and stare, you could. We couldn’t close, even if we wanted to. If we did, they would just sit there on the front lawn.
I remember it well. It was surreal flipping through the stations and hearing nothing but Dead. To this day, if I hear two or three stations playing an artist, I think somebody just died.”

Your store sounds more like a culture than simply a store. What can people expect when they come to your store?
“Some of the veil has been lifted a little bit. When people walk into our store, they have no idea what we are. They just impulsively come in the store. Usually it’s somebody that says “I’ve been driving up and down route 70 for ten years and I’ve never come in here and decided that today’s the day”. They have no idea what to expect and so we get an interesting mix of reactions. A little bit of surprise, because of the humble exterior. It’s kind of like the kids in Willy Wonka when they came to the chocolate room. It’s tight and colorful and it’s sort of sensuous. Your senses are gonna be engaged immediately. You’ll hear whatever music we’re playing you’ll notice our incense (even if we’re not burning it you’ll still smell it), then you’ll start to see…how to describe it….an overgrown jungle of color and imagery. It’s a lot to take in at once. It takes people a few seconds to decompress from the gray world into ours. Then they actually will speak to us. Some people are really nervous! We get some people that feel like they’re really in over their head. Then they start speaking to us and realize that we’re pretty harmless people and we sometimes will have people that put up their defenses in the form of an offense and can be condescending and speak to us like we’re brainless hippies or whatever. We accidentally convince them that we’re not. We’re all over-educated. Our training is in chemistry and science, mine in chemistry and biology. They also assume our politics are extreme left of center, yet we own a business. (Laughter). After 26 years of business you’re gonna end up somewhere in the middle of left and right. Then of course we have people ask if we sell pipes. We never did. We know glass blowers, and we’re glass blowers ourselves, we know a lot of the pipe makers and we love them and they’re really cool cats and all that and I have nothing against “it” as such, but I just don’t want it here. Believe me, it’s hard to say no because it’s money. There’s good money in the pipes and it’s hard to resist. We’ve debated more than once, maybe we should, it could really help us monetarily, and the glass blowers would love to sell to us…”

Would you change your mind if marijuana was legalized?
“That’s a legitimate question. I don’t know. It would have to be federally legal, before I did that, not just in the state of New Jersey. But the problem is, we’d still have to check ID’s and the idea of having to do that, having to have a back room or separate room….I don’t know…it’s kind of weird.”

It’s been fun finding out about your store and what inspired the start of it, 26 years ago!
“I think it was just seeing the process of being at a Grateful Dead show, the call and response and that sort of feeling of unity that sparked something in my mom to think “I want to be part of this”. It has all of the trappings of what a really good religion or culture should have without too much of the elitist crap and restrictions and rules.”

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Address and website:
The Woodstock Trading Company, 1880 Rte 70 East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
http://www.woodstocktradeco.com
Facebook: Woodstock trading company

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