The Life Listener

There are parts of his past that are sad, so William Javier Velazquez does what he has been doing his entire life to ease the pain. He puts a record on the turntable.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Javi’s the owner of HiFi Records & Cafe.

The soul-soothing sound of Leon Bridges’ Coming Home is what people hear when they walk into HiFi Records & Café, which he opened earlier this year for fellow vinyl aficionados.

The first ears it reaches are those of his wife, Ülkü Aybar-Velazquez, and their year-old daughter, Maya, who have come to bring him a sandwich wrapped in silver foil.

“My life now is very happy,” he says, smiling at them.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
HiFi’s on Steinway Street at 23rd Avenue.

William, who has a grizzled goatee and studious black glasses, was named for his father, a man he barely knows, which is why he goes by Javier. Everybody calls him Javi.

Javi, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, spent the early years of his life in the Bronx, which is where his mother raised her six children by herself.

“She took the family back to Puerto Rico because she was having medical problems when she was pregnant with me, and she wanted to be close to her mother,” Javi says. “My dad never sent any money for us to return.”


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Listening to records saved Javi’s life.

When Javi was 2, they did come back, taking up residence with two aunts and their children in a townhouse owned by Javi’s uncle.

“We didn’t have much, but we had each other,” he says.

At that time, the 1970s, the Bronx had a rep for gangs, drugs and murders.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Most of HiFi’s 6,000 records are vintage.

Javi was not allowed to play outside, so he tuned in to his older sisters’ records. Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan became his best friends.

“Those records were my window to the world,” he says. “By listening to them, I learned about relationships and heartbreaks. I was only 8, so I looked up all the big words in the lyrics in the encyclopedias my mother bought us.”

It was a good thing Javi found an escape from reality because his mother remarried. His stepfather was interested only in his own children, so Javi and a sister were sent to their grandmother in Comerío, Puerto Rico.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Javi was raised in the Bronx and Puerto Rico.

“It was during the summer,” he says. “I thought it was for a vacation, but my mother never came to get us.”

After a year, the two were sent to live with Javi’s father and his new wife in San Juan.

“They didn’t have children,” Javi says. “She wanted us, but my father didn’t like the arrangement and didn’t become part of my life.”

More and more, Javi turned on the turntable. But even that became a problem.

“My stepmother was highly Protestant and if it wasn’t church music, she thought it was the devil’s music,” he says. “I had good grades so she let me buy the records I wanted, but I had to wear headphones so she couldn’t hear it. Later, I bought a Walkman with a tape recorder. This made me even more isolated.”

In his free time, he took part-time jobs in record stores.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
At HiFi, you can hang out, get a cup of coffee and listen.

“I heard my first CD in high school,” he says. “I didn’t like it. There’s something about putting the needle to the record that moves me.”

He never saw his mother again; she died when he was a teenager.

At 17, he joined the Air Force, which took him to Honduras, Panama and Saudi Arabia and exposed him to many different kinds of music.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Javi in the zone.

“I collected records wherever I was stationed,” he says.

Under the GI Bill, he earned a college degree and took a job with a corporation.

“I hated it,” he says, adding that early on in his career he was transferred to Miami. “But I kept working for various companies in the organization.”


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
HiFi opened during the summer.

He spent his free time in record stores and at vintage record shows. He didn’t have a wife or child then, but he did have room in his life for 35,000 albums.

“I was happiest when I was doing this,” he says.

In 2012, after overseeing the shutdown of a company in the corporation, Javi took a severance package and a work break.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Daddy and daughter.

The change came at the right time: Javi’s uncle, who lives in Colonia, New Jersey, was ill and needed his help.

“I owe him everything,” he says. “He was more like a father to me than my father.”


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Embracing a new life.

While he was living in New Jersey, Javi met Ülkü, a textile engineer in the fashion industry who is from Adana, Turkey. It was she who brought him to Astoria.

“I lost myself to my love,” Javi says. “We dated for about a year, and I asked her father for her hand in marriage. She was visiting her parents in Turkey, so I did it on Skype. I don’t know Turkish, but I learned enough words to make this request.”

When Maya was born, Javi decided to open HiFi, the only shop in Astoria devoted to new and vintage vinyl albums.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Maya helping out at HiFi.

“I’ve always wanted to own a record store,” he says. “I figured I would do it when I retired. In my job as a project manager for a construction company, I have to travel a lot. But I want to be able to spend more time with Maya.”

She’s with him now, in fact. She’s on the floor, looking through plastic crates filled with albums.

“From the first time I heard her cry,” Javi says, “she gave my life purpose.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at; nruhling on Instagram.
Copyright 2015 by Nancy A. Ruhling