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Meet Bob and Kathy Botto of Vintage Sounds in West Houston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bob and Kathy Botto.

Bob and Kathy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 1981, my husband Bob was driving home from a Chemistry conference in Waco, TX. He stopped into a small town called Hiedenheimer to stretch his legs. The town consisted of a dairy bar, an antique shop and a couple trailers. Bob went into the antique shop. A very old man in there watched Bob from behind the counter. Finally he said “I have just what you need”. Bob said “What is that?” The man took a small wooden box from beneath the counter. He said “It’s an Edison Phonograph – furthermore it’s experimental.” Intrigued, Bob examined its contents. Rusty parts and spiders. Bob asked “How much is it?” The old man said $25. Bob counted all his money. “I have $19.60.” “Then take it and send me a check for the balance”. Upon returning Bob cleaned the parts and assembled them. Six months later. With some help from a local antique dealer, he finally got the 1900 Experimental Edison Gem Phonograph to play.

My husband began collecting phonographs and got to know a dealer in Dallas named Rick Wilkins. As a chemist he met Bill Werzner through the American Chemical Society, and Dick Neavel was a co-worker at Exxon in Baytown. Bill was interested in restoring radios and is President of the Houston Vintage Radio Association today. Dick was a phonograph and record collector. An opportunity to set up shop came when a phonograph/record dealer left the Trade Mart in 1985. The manager asked us to open a shop. Vintage Sounds opened in February 1985.with Bob, Bill, Dick and Rick as the original team.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Research and comments from the public lead us to believe that we have a unique shop. We sell and repair tube type radios, telephones from the 1980s back, windup phonographs and gramophones, windup music boxes of cylinder and disc. We stock records from 2 minute wax cylinders to 33 RPM. We offer early Edison light bulbs and telegraph items when available. We have novelty items and ephemera related to the focus of the store.

The passage of time and fluctuating parts availability, combined with customer expectation of timetable for restorations are our biggest challenges. Some projects if brought to us as soon as 10 years ago, would have been restorable. Time and where the owner had it kept sometimes render restoration either very expensive or not possible. Increasingly we are challenged to interface analog with digital to optimize the customer usage of their vintage equipment. The business climate has changed markedly in 33 years. We have weathered it.

We are proud to be referenced by the Edison Historic Site as a regional expert on Edison phonographs. We are members of two collector organizations: Vintage Radio & Phonograph Society in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and the Houston Vintage Radio Association.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Vintage Sounds story. Tell us more about the business.
We actually warranty everything we sell. Tube type radios and phonographs are warrantied for one year all parts and labor (except springs). It starts with quality purchases we make, followed by quality restoration. The store is a showcase full of high quality vintage pieces, expertly restored.

Kathy coordinates all of our repair work and refinishing. She provides her expert advice for our customers on collecting, restoration and care. We are known for the quality of our customer interface as much as the items we sell.

We also sell vacuum tubes for vintage equipment, radios, amplifiers etc. Our “Tube Queen”, Kathy advises our customers on tube applications. We have the technical staff to support our business: Kathy Botto, Bob Botto, phonograph repairs, Rick Wilkins, phonograph repairs, Bill Werzner, radio restorations, Mark White, radio restorations, Ron Smith, telephone repairs, Rick Saint, telephone repairs, Randall Anderson, music box repairs, Jovette Jolicoeur, webmaster. Our original partner Dick Neavel is diseased.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
We don’t depend on luck but we certainly experience it. As Thomas Edison said: Luck favors a prepared mind. Being in business for 33 years we are well experienced, our minds sharpened by trial, error, success and failure. Over the years we have probably restored over 5000 vintage items.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 10910 Katy Freeway, Houston, Tx, 77043
  • Website: Vintagesoundshouston.com
  • Phone: 713-468-4911
  • Email: bottokathy@gmail.com

Image Credit:
Rick Wilkins, Mark White ,Bob Botto, Bill Werzner

Getting in touch: VoyageHouston is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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