Local Record Shops Find New Groove During COVID-19 Shutdown

For music lovers, the four walls of a favourite record shop might feel like a sanctuary. It’s a place where you can lose yourself in one of life’s greatest sources of comfort: music. Like many of the regions’ small businesses, record stores have been forced to close their doors in recent weeks due to the social distancing measures related to COVID-19. 

 “Obviously [having] no customers coming in the store has been a hit,” Mark Logan, owner of Encore Records in Kitchener said. “While our sales are not what they would be, we’re doing enough business [online] to likely ride this out.”

Encore Records has been able to recuperate a substantial amount of lost sales thanks to the work they have put into their online storefront over the past several years. Populating their website has been an intensive labour of love as each item for sale has to be entered manually, but Logan is incredibly grateful for the support it has brought him.

“[The situation] probably quadrupled the amount of people that use our site every day,” Logan said. “People are hunting around, finding our website and ordering a lot of records.”

Thanks to their strong online catalogue, support for Encore Records has grown beyond a community of local regulars, extending its way across the country, something Logan attributes to the high prices and longer shipping times of larger online retailers.

Needless to say, having an adaptable approach is essential to finding any success through such trying times. Throughout KW, records stores are shifting their approaches in order to cater to isolated music lovers. 

Matt Morgenson, manager of Orange Monkey in Waterloo, joked about the logistics of social distancing when you operate out of an attic.

“Everything is different from how we normally work,” he said. “We aren’t able to be in the store at the same time … which is a little difficult.”

Morgenson said that Orange Monkey has started selling online through Discogs while continuing to accept orders via email and social media. “We have had a pretty good amount of people reach out,” he said. “That is what’s helping us right now.”

Back in Kitchener at X-Disc-C Music, owner Kevin Diebolt described how the shutdown came just weeks after he closed for renovations aimed at expanding the size of the store.

“I’ve never known a time like this in my whole life … [the shutdown] basically stopped us in the water at first,” he said.

“I had been spending money buying product in anticipation of having a very busy Spring,” he added.

Despite being left with mounting interest on investments he made for a time that we all thought would look a lot different, Diebolt says his customers have been supportive. 

 He has also noticed an interesting trend arising from people spending more time at home in isolation: “I find that a lot of sales of records are driven by the documentaries on artists on TV,” he said. “Bands I may not have sold for a really long time all of a sudden become really, really popular.”

 X-Disc-C Music is currently accepting sales and orders over social media, email and by phone. Though Diebolt expressed regret at not having invested in an online storefront, he hopes to do so in the future.

Adapting to new ways of selling isn’t the only obstacle local records stores are facing. In addition to accepting online orders, some stores are offering curbside pickup, something the stores initially found confusing because the rules and regulations surrounding non-essential businesses were not clear. 

While stores continuously evolve in light of COVID-19, buyers and sellers alike wait with bated breath to see what will come of Record Store Day 2020, which has now been postponed from April 18 to June 20.

 “I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Logan said, adding that he’s not sure people will feel comfortable showing up to an event which typically sees customers lined up outside of the building. “June still seems pretty close to have 200 people crammed in our store.”

In light of these challenges, each store emphasized the importance of the support they receive from the community.

“I would definitely suggest this is a great time to explore new music,” Morgenson said, noting that Orange Monkey is grateful to all those who have reached out. He also stressed the importance of supporting artists directly. 

While Diebolt over at X-Disc-C Music continues to explore different options for an online storefront, he also eagerly awaits the opportunity to interact with customers in person.

“It would take a lot of the enjoyment out of the job if I just couldn’t [be] face-to-face, sharing my love of music and playing vinyl,” he admitted.

 Back at Encore Records, Logan expressed his gratitude towards the community. 

“Next year for us is going to be 40 years, so I think the community’s done alright by us,” he laughed. “I think we’ll still be here when [things open] and that’s strictly down to the fact that people are supporting us.”

While local record stores continue to receive a lot of support, Logan encouraged people to continue supporting other local businesses as well, pointing to closures that have been announced in the last few weeks, suggesting that it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a big difference.