In a digital music world, Jersey record shops are still spinning
PRINCETON — About 600 people still walk through the doors of Princeton Record Exchange on a weekday. On Saturday and Sunday, the head count doubles.
But attracting those customers doesn't come as easy as in the past.
Once an automatic for folks looking for the latest album drop, the shop on South Tulane Street has had to transform into a destination that will bring in shoppers for other reasons. Tactics as simple as strong air conditioning and daily-vacuumed floors help create a fresh and vibrant establishment that can't be beat by "sterile internet shopping," as owner Jon Lambert explains it.
"It's a challenging business, no doubt about it," Lambert told New Jersey 101.5. "For the last 10, 15 years or so, there's been a lot of hurdles to overcome."
The number of record stores nationwide has been nearly cut in half since 2008, according to market research firm IBISWorld. The main culprit is online consumption of recorded music, creating less of a need to visit brick-and-mortar shops.
"The industry is experiencing rapidly declining revenue, establishments and employment," IBISWorld said in a recent report on record stores.
Industry revenue fell by about 7 percent over the past five years, the report said. It's expected to fall another 6.3 percent through 2021.
New Jersey establishments make up 3.4 percent of record stores nationwide, according to the report.
And in order to survive, a number of Garden State shops have made some major changes.
It may be called The Record Store, but about 75 percent of business at the Howell shop comes from comic books. Comics and collectible toys were introduced into the Route 9 location in the early 2000s.
"If i just depended on music, I would probably be out of business," said owner Jeff Lega. "I saw the writing on the wall 20 years ago."
Lega said online retail wasn't the only threat. Big box stores began selling CDs as a loss leader, meaning yet another reason to skip over your local record shop.
According to Tim Cronin, manager at Jack's Music Shoppe in Red Bank, there's still a solid crowd of people who want to physically visit a music shop and purchase tunes of the past and present.
"As more stores go out of business, the ones that stay pick up their business," Cronin said.
But while business is "good," Cronin remembers when it was great.
"I don't know anybody who's not struggling," he said. "It's not like it was."
Some adjustments at Jack's include less reliability on the sale of DVDs — which are "dead," Cronin said — along with the introduction of used books.
Shops have been noticing a resurgence of customers interested in vinyl. It's not just hard-core collectors sifting through the racks of old school records. Teenagers and early 20-somethings started jumping on the vintage bandwagon over the past five years or so, according to Joe Koukos, who opened Hold Fast Records in Asbury Park in 2009.
"We don't put out garbage, and I think that's what's killing a lot of shops," Koukos said.
Ninety-five percent of the shop's inventory is used.
Another key to his store's success is a heavy presence on Instagram and Facebook, Koukos said.
"If you're not online doing that stuff, you're a dinosaur," he said. "You have to change with the times."
Not much has changed for Vintage Vinyl Records, located in the Fords section of Woodbridge, owner Rob Roth said. The store is still going strong after 38 years, offering more than 100,000 titles.
"I'm lucky. I'm very lucky," Roth said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.