The music snobs populating the popular Nick Hornby book turned into the John
Cusack film High Fidelity
would be proud of Tel Aviv’s Haozen Hashlishit (The
Third Ear). While the mainstream mega-stores like Tower Records and Blockbuster
have bitten the dust in the US, the independent record/CD/DVD landmark that
caters to a more fringe taste in music and film has flourished.
medium we apply to enjoy our entertainment may be changing at a dizzying pace,
but over the last 25 years the Ozen has been the one constant in making
available a wide selection of music and movies beyond the top 10
Once ensconced in the then-hip and trendy Sheinkin Street, the
iconic second-hand record store deservingly built its reputation as the one-stop
shop for hard-to-find import LPs and CDs from obscure British progressive rock
bands, as well as local indie artists putting out their do-it-yourself
Today, the Ozen is still that but also a whole lot more – it’s an
expanding media empire, employing more than 100 people and encompassing a
sprawling building on Tel Aviv’s King George Street that once housed the Maxim
Sure, there are still vintage LPs by Yes and Tangerine Dream, as
well as thousands of used and new CDs for sale that will satiate the most
particular of music nerds, but there’s also the biggest video library in the
country, a thriving live music club and café called the Ozen Bar that presents
the cream of up-and-coming local and sometimes international talent, and a
successful video satellite store in Jerusalem.
That reality was never
part of the Ozen’s founder and CEO Miki Dotan’s dreams when he opened his first
pre-Ozen record store after completing his army service in 1973.
grew up in Eilat, where his love of rock derived from listening to specialty
radio programs and trading albums with friends whose relatives brought them
gifts from Europe.
“We had one record store in Eilat, and it also sold
washing machines. So I wasn’t going to find any specialty music there,” he says.
“I always knew I wanted to run a record store, and it was right after the Yom
Kippur War when a friend and I opened a store in Kikar Masyrik,” says the
60-year-old Dotan, pointing to a photo behind him on the wall of his office
displaying his frizzy-haired younger self in a Yes T-shirt inside the store with
“That’s just the way we were,” he laughs, looking at the
photo. “The store was a little fringy, but even then all those progressive rock
bands from the 1970s like Pink Floyd and King Crimson were becoming mainstream
among a certain population. We sold what we liked, and our store was
instrumental in disseminating this kind of music in Israel.”
success, Dotan closed the store and in 1977 moved to Holland for three years,
where he became a partner and manager of imports in a record store chain called
ELPEE. Upon his return to Israel, Dotan attended university, studying
philosophy, economics and statistics, but music remained his true love. In 1987,
at age 35, he decided to return to his destined profession and opened Haozen
Hashlishit on Sheinkin St.
“David Bowie was once asked ‘Why do you still
sing?’ And he answered, ‘What else am I going to do – open up an ice cream
shop?’ For me, it was realizing this is what I do,” says Dotan.
apparently does it well, because the Ozen quickly became a music culture magnet
in Tel Aviv, with musicians and fans alike hanging out there and using it as a
hub to exchange gossip, find a new bass player and peruse the latest British
imports. The store even launched its own Third Ear label and began putting out
music by underground Tel Aviv bands.
“The Ozen played an integral role in
providing an outlet for the alternative music community that emerged in the late
1980s and early 1990s,” says music expert Boaz Cohen, the morning DJ on 88 FM.
“They were the most significant power on the indie music scene in
But it was the selling, buying and trading of albums and CDs
that proved to be the store’s bread and butter. The Ozen came around at the
precise time when CDs were entering the market and vinyl was beginning its
decline as the form of music most people bought – a very good time for a used
record and CD store.
“Little by little, people began selling their albums
to buy CDs, a decision they probably regret now,” says Dotan with a laugh.
“Then, it was the style to listen to the new media, but in time it became clear
that CDs weren’t the best way to listen to music. However, as a second-hand
store, it worked out well for us – we had a huge supply of goods.”
also didn’t hurt business that around the same time, “Sheinkin” became the
catchphrase for all things hip, alternative and trendsetting, with quirky
boutiques, cafes and shops overtaking the traditionally old world Tel Aviv
neighborhood. The Ozen was smack in the middle of the new Tel Aviv “Village,”
but according to Dotan, the whole idea of the Sheinkin scene was a
“We opened the store on Sheinkin because the rent was cheap. Then
all the hype started, it got really expensive, and we had no room to expand,” he
says. “We’re happy we didn’t stay there. The hype finished, and today the street
is a mess.”
The move to the new facilities in 2005 enabled Dotan to
spread out and attempt some new endeavors – expanding the store’s jazz and
classical sections, launching the country’s biggest video library and opening
the Ozen Bar, which presents 40 live shows a month.
“As the whole nature
of recorded music has changed, with downloads and iTunes taking over, we’ve had
to adapt. Today, there’s more importance attached to live music,” says Dotan.
“In media, you have to reinvent yourself all the time.”
likely contributed to the Ozen’s survival in an environment that has seen much
bigger and more mainstream music chains go out of business. But Dotan would like
to look at it differently – that the Ozen’s strength has been in its focus on
art on the fringes.
“Look, 25 years later and Tower is barely here,
Blockbuster isn’t here, but the store that deals with music and film outside the
mainstream is,” he says. “The fact is that fringe beat the mainstream from my
viewpoint. We have 100 workers who receive their salaries every month.
We’re doing something right.”
To celebrate its longevity, the Ozen is
hosting The Long Weekend from March 22-24, featuring an impressive lineup of
live music and film. Among the highlights are British singer/songwriter Robyn
Hitchcock returning to the Ozen Bar after two superlative shows last year to
perform his classic 1990 album Eye in its entirety on March 22. Two nights
later, Hitchcock will perform with his occasional side band Venus 3, featuring
former REM guitarist Peter Buck. Hitchcock and Buck are also slated to hold a
master class for musicians.
Other events over the weekend include
marathons of live performances by local acts, and a screening of Twenty, the
Cameron Crowe documentary on Pearl Jam.
As Haozen Hashlishit enters its
next phase, Dotan is confident that things will change as much as they have in
the first 25 years.
“CDs are on the way out – nobody likes the format,
and nobody will miss it,” he says. “But today, a lot of music still only goes
out on CD because it’s comfortable for the industry.
But in time, it will
evolve into something new. And we’ll evolve along with it. You can change your
colors but stay with the same DNA; but staying with the same DNA doesn’t mean
you sit around and do the same thing until you die. We’ll find another way to
provide culture to intelligent people in an intelligent manner. If it’s not CDs,
it will be something else.”
But no matter what changes are in store, it’s
reasonable to think that the Ozen will always have a corner where some
passionate music collector will be able to find that hard-to-find import by Yes.