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Six Phoenix Record Shops Talk Business Amid COVID

Music fan Charlie Von Moonshine digs through vinyl at The Record Room.
Music fan Charlie Von Moonshine digs through vinyl at The Record Room.
The Record Room

As a rule, the music industry is subject to regular upheaval. But after threats like streaming music and economic downturn, the one posed by COVID-19 has proven especially challenging. So, how have record stores weathered the storm and found ways to keep music essential as consumers weight every single purchase? Well, we asked around, and what follows is some essential insight into what stores are selling, how they're doing financially, and what lessons COVID has taught retailers. 

The Record Room

2601 West Dunlap Avenue
602-460-0040
facebook.com/TheRecordRoom

What are you best known for selling, or what’s always sold the best?
John Rose, owner:
What we actually sell is kind of everything. It's often a lot of the same 20 or so albums over and over again. Stuff like Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, The Beatles. Almost everyone comes in for some used classics. Like, 'Do you have [Pink] Floyd or the [Rolling] Stones?' All that's never changed.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
It's still pretty much classic rock, but then a smattering of different stuff. Like, System of a Down, Metallica, and Iron Maiden. A lot more big stuff than anything obscure. I don't even like that stuff, but the stuff I do like I try to order and people don't know what it is, so I end up selling the same things. One thing I have noticed, though, is a lot of younger people looking for classics, like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Fleetwood Mac.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
Our sales remained pretty consistent. They went down a little during the week, but we're in the summertime now and that's expected. But then they more than make up for it during the weekend. Once we opened back up, it was like, okay, we went right back to normal. Yeah, you've got to wear a mask, but it was still the same old stuff. We saw a lot of cheap, mostly $1 to $3 records being sold. Again, mostly cheap classics.

Any final words on owning a record shop during COVID?
I don't think COVID has really changed anybody's taste. Classic rock remains the best seller.

The rows of vinyl at Tracks in Wax.
The rows of vinyl at Tracks in Wax.
Julian Hernandez

Tracks in Wax

4741 North Central Avenue
602-274-2660
tracksinwax.net




What are you best known for selling, or what’s always sold the best?
Timmy Stamper, owner:
I've been selling the same kinds of stuff, which is to say all types of music. That could be jazz or '70s and '80s music or alternative. It's just imperative that it's both interesting and clean. Also, I'd say hair metal has been really hard to keep on the rack for the last, say, 10 to 15 years, namely bands like Poison or Cinderella. Then there's also The B-52s and Alice in Chains and Joy Division.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
Maybe this is happening more in the last five years, but I've been selling a lot of Nina Simone and Sam Cooke records. People just want clean older stuff. I've even been selling quite a lot of Budgie records. Their whole catalog, even.

The thing is, it's hard out there to find a near-mint first printing Boston record, and even more so when you go on the internet and then see pricing.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
Everyone went crazy right around the end of May and on into early June. But then June, July, and August are always the worst months in general for record stores, 'cause it's just so hot. And people are more selective right [through] August. So you always expect some delays this time of year. I'm even starting to go through some records I've hidden away from last year just to make it through.

Any final words on owning a record shop during COVID?
Luckily, the summer bleeds into the holidays, and in November and December, you often got a boost thanks to so many out-of-towners.

A shot from inside Grace Records.
A shot from inside Grace Records.
Julian Hernandez

Grace Records

2200 East Williams Field Road, Gilbert
480-534-0681
gracerecord.com

What are you best known for selling, or what’s always sold the best?
Brent Berg, manager:
Our customer base is very young, so artists like Billie Eilish and Harry Styles are always popular and our best sellers. Same with someone like Tyler, the Creator. We also carry a ton of T-shirts with many of these same artists attached. My goal when I took over the store was to make sure there was something for everyone, even if they didn't buy records.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
We carry a ton of posters and puzzles and books, and that's helped a lot. Because we're in a mall, not a lot of the other stores were able to properly stock for this [pandemic]. So now a lot of people are coming to us to buy all these things, and just grab anything that's music related. There's other stores that carry the same things that we do, but just not in the same context.

We're social creatures, and we need to get out and see other people, no matter how much social media exists. So that definitely played a role in pushing people toward shopping a little bit.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
We've definitely seen an increase in traffic. There are no other record shops in a mall, so it was mostly kids who'd come in just to hang out. Only now, it's become far more of a destination spot, and people are coming in here specifically to buy something. We're an entertainment store, so people are looking for things to do when there's no movies or anything. The first month and a half, probably until June, had a huge impact [sales-wise]. I wasn't here last year, so it's hard to gauge if it's anything else or just the amount of things we carry.

Any final words on owning a record shop during COVID?
You can't replace the experience of going into a store, no matter how much money you'll save. But the people who are locked down and still buying online, that's okay. Everyone has to do what they feel is right to be safe.

Stinkweeds Records during the Record Store Day 2018 event.
Stinkweeds Records during the Record Store Day 2018 event.
Michelle Sasonov

Stinkweeds Records

12 West Camelback Road

602-248-9461
stinkweeds.com

What are you best known for selling, or what’s always sold the best?
Dario Miranda, store clerk: I was actually joking about this the other day, but I can't remember the last time that I actually sold a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Typically, that's always a big seller. That, or Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
It really seems that people are actually now buying things that maybe they haven't heard before. People are really digging deeper, and they've been really excited about new albums coming out, either those from new bands or some older bands. Some of the big ones have been the new Fiona Apple, new Phoebe Bridgers, new Neil Young, new Mac Miller, new Arca, new Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, and new Moses Sumney. But I couldn't speak to whether or not we're selling as much or less than what we were selling before.

But we're doing fine. Our customers have been really great.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
We've probably sold more record players in the past three months than we have in the past, say, two years. So if people are buying record players, that means they're getting into records.

There are people we've never seen before, and they're saying, "Oh, it's my first time shopping here." But they're the ones showing up every week and buying something. We've seen a few cases like that. It's not a surprise because we're all spending more time at home.

Any final words on working at a record shop during COVID?
It really pulls on our heartstrings to see a lot of this customer support. I personally have experienced some heavy support from new customers, which is just awesome.

Some of the many offerings at Grand Avenue Records.
Some of the many offerings at Grand Avenue Records.
Tom Reardon

Grand Avenue Records

1504 Grand Avenue

602-730-2991
grandaverecords.com


What are you best known for selling, or what’s always sold the best?
Konstadinos "Cocoe" Tsimahidis, owner:
I've been a DJ for over 30 years. All of the shops that I've worked at were some of the best in the world, and so this store is a clone of that. If you're a DJ, you're going to be pretty versatile, which means funk, soul, disco, house, drum and bass, techno, anything on the electronic side. But we also have a nice curated rock section and one for psych and blues and prog.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
I keep selling a lot of 7-inch records. Even some 45 records, too. Lots of hip-hop but also soul and funk, and I have to keep reordering them. I'm also selling a lot of hip-hop from the golden age. I'm one of the only few stores that also focuses heavily on Prince, and the only store that really focuses on Detroit dance music. We did a limited run of T-shirts with Prince, and those were really just helping us pay the rent. I had people from all over the world buying the shirts up.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
For the first two weeks, I basically just chilled, and it was a time for my wife and I just to think. We weren't really making any money, so I put a lot of stuff online that first month. It's not exactly helping me make the rent or anything, but at least I wasn't zeroing out. I also took a couple weeks to build our website. We did the appointment thing for a while, and that was good, and now we're open Saturdays and Sundays.

The money is trickling in, so we're not looking at the moment right now, but the future instead, which is what all business owners should do. I'm not doing crazy numbers right now, but definitely I've seen some growth, because I've worked really hard to make that happen.

Any final words on owning a record shop during COVID?
It's definitely a very different record store here, and we're far more community-driven. If I can compare it to anything, it's a traditional, old-school barber shop. You just go in there and unload and feel comfortable.

Shoppers at Zia Records browse the bins.
Shoppers at Zia Records browse the bins.
Michelle Sasonov

Zia Records

Multiple Locations
ziarecords.com




What are you best known for selling, or what’s sold the best?
Mike Durham, buyer/manager:
We have an extremely diverse customer base. We want you to be able to come into our store and buy a Travis Scott record, but we also want you to be able to discover something you've never heard of that has a rad cover. I think that we've been able to cover those bases pretty well over time.

I think we've been seeing a trend for a few years of people breaking into vinyl. Getting back into our top sellers list, if you have modern hip-hop classics, [that] totally makes sense for vinyl. But also, if I buy that Tyler, the Creator album, I may buy a Beatles or Pink Floyd album.

How has COVID influenced what folks are buying?
I'm not sure it's changed all that much. The biggest thing has been online purchasing and preorders. People are doing a lot more shopping online but they want to support local shops. The biggest sellers for us are modern hip-hop and soul classics: Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator, and Kid Cudi. It's also modern alt rock and pop things, like Harry Styles. Tame Impala is another one, and not even their latest records; it's [2015's] Currents. We had people ordering more stuff that [wasn't] out yet, like Fiona Apple and the Mac Miller mixtape reissue.

How has business fared overall in the last several months?
We're just trying to do our best to translate things within people's comfort zones so that they can have some sense of entertainment. People are figuring out issues with streaming. Like, that movie you thought you could always stream, it's just not true. So now people are saying, "Guess I have to buy DVDs again."

While our stores were closed, we took a lot of time, uploading a fair amount of our preowned inventory and vinyl onto our website, which was something that we hadn't really made a priority in the past.

Any final words on owning a record shop during COVID?
Zia is celebrating our 40th anniversary this year, and the business has evolved a lot, whether it's formats change or nobody caring about vinyl in the '90s and then it coming back. Our customers respond to creativity. So to create that excitement every day of the week, we have to evolve ongoing. If we have to give them that community through online presence, that's something we'll continue to do. I don't see that changing.

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