Paramount Imports has stayed in business for 50 years by
celebrating all cultures and subcultures
Tim Eglington doesn’t remember when he first started working at Paramount Imports. It seems like one of those mystical passages of time with no end and no beginning. Within seconds, though, Stacy Sargent, the owner and decades-long manager of Paramount, jumps in the back to retrieve the answer: 1987.
Eglington is one of many with decades of Paramount experience. The time component is crucial because once again, anniversaries are exploding out of nowhere. Exactly a month from now, Paramount will throw a huge party to celebrate its 50th year at 455 Meridian Ave. Forget the Summer of Love. This is the summer of Paramount Imports.
Generations of outcasts cut their teeth at Paramount, myself included. It was the first place in the Bay Area to specialize in pipes and smoking paraphernalia before that stuff became an industry. It was also the first place in San Jose to sell Doc Martens, punk clothing, incense from India, tarot cards and black light posters of topless women. Long before local record stores popularized the rock poster phenomenon, Jim Morrison and Bob Marley posters flew off the racks at Paramount.
When original proprietor Dave Kowal first opened Paramount, it really was an imports store. He sold statuary and home decor from Mexico. Within a few years, though, pipes and posters began to fill the shelves. As the psychedelic ’60s morphed into the freewheeling ’70s, the stock evolved into a counterculture bouillabaisse of items. The rear half of the store turned into an exotic haven for water pipes, smoking paraphernalia and magazines. The front half evolved into a sordid mishmash of rock digs, biker oddities, crystals, counterculture books, T-shirts, black light equipment, jewelry, shoes, purses, tapestries and much more, all of which catered to the underbelly of suburban America.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Kowal began printing his own posters out of the back of the building while running a T-shirt shop near Star Records on the East Side. But it wasn’t fruitful enough. He wanted out.
Sargent, who attended Lincoln High School, met her husband, John, in the music library at West Valley College. John held a music degree from San Jose State University and was a lifelong jazz musician. They got married in June of 1980 and then bought the…