Making the secretaries feel better: The story of the Government Center
After years of teaching middle school in Salem, Ore., Josh Cozby decided he was at a point of financial stability, wanted some change, and needed something to do. With a life-long passion for music, and the dream of opening a record store always looming overhead, Cozby decided “Government Center” should be more than the title of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers song about a place where musicians “make all the secretaries feel better while they put the stamps on the letters.” He embarked on the journey of opening The Government Center record store. After some time scoping out a couple of cities where a record store could potentially succeed, Cozby was sold on Pittsburgh after his first visit.
With open storefronts on the North Side’s East Ohio Street (the shop’s original space), helpful and curious neighbors, and a market for distributing works like Stereolab, Cate Le Bon, and Habibi Funk, Cozby states that Pittsburgh was the perfect place for his new endeavor. Although knowing no one in the city before opening the store, he said, “It seems people just want things to succeed. The people are really cool and helpful.” The decision to nest in Pittsburgh became almost unquestionable.
Since moving around the corner to East Street in 2021, The Government Center record store now also includes a bar, coffee shop and a space for live performances that has contributed to Pittsburgh’s flourishing DIY music scene coming out of the pandemic. While house shows get routinely shut down, and larger venues charge a high rents to present a show, the store only charges $100 for a band to rent out the space for an evening. Over the past year or so, the performance space has been hosting shows and events nearly every night of the week. From movie screenings to album release listening parties, and vinyl selections that range from Phoebe Bridgers to jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby, the shop lives up to the idea behind Richman’s song, becoming not just a record store, but a true center for all arts and music in Pittsburgh.
On Oct. 14, Cozby and his team opened another location on Potomac Avenue in Dormont, called the Outpost. Running one storefront seems challenging enough, but Cozby is pragmatic about it: “We needed more space to put all the records we have,” he said. “We just can’t fit all the good records on the floor.”
Not only does this new spot create some room for more vinyl (and cassettes), it allows the Government Center to spread its reach through more of the Pittsburgh area. In an area that hosts events like the Dormont Street and Music Festival, the new spot is ultimately in the perfect area for anyone who wants some records to go with some slices from a place like Badamo’s Pizza, its neighbor in the adjacent doorway. The new shop is now open every Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Although it seems that natural ways of connecting are seemingly dying off in this technological and social media driven age, people automatically flock to places where sharing interests and connections are the key goals. The Government Center serves as a perfect example of how people in Pittsburgh crave more casual creative outlets. Though operating a small business in 2023 is grueling, this space is centered on making things better.
“We’ll take the amps, we’ll take the guitars, we’ll do anything just to make these secretaries feel better,” said Jonathan Richman. And by doing just that, the Government Center has clearly made life in Pittsburgh a bit better.