By Nicholas Wurm
The wood floors at Patchogue, NY’s Record Stop are clean. The bins of vinyl records, new on your left and used on your right, are pushed back and organized. Rare records, by artists ranging from Abba to Zappa, watch from the walls. CDs sit neatly on their shelves.
Somewhere inside, owner Jeff Berg is working until five — but there won’t be any customers coming through the shop’s glass doors. As long as record stores remain “non-essential,” they’ll only be shopping online.
With New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE order extended through April 29, Long Island’s analog record stores have turned to digital solutions to keep their doors open. Just under half of the island’s ~13 shops have websites of their own, but they are also relying on online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and music curator Discogs. Record Stop maintains a presence on all three sites, and Berg also recently opened his wholesale distribution site, Monostereo, up for retail sales.
”If it wasn’t for our online business, that existed before the coronavirus issue, we would be really, really in a bad spot,” Berg said. “…It’s not the same experience, but pretty much everything [in the store] is on the site, and [customers] can still help keep us going and keep the new music coming into their house.”
Not all stores have been able to make as smooth a transition to online-only sales. Looney Tunes Music and More, in West Babylon, NY, has seen the 80 percent of their business that came from their physical store drop to nearly zero. Last week, owner Karl Groeger jr. stopped offering curbside pick-up service due to safety concerns during the pandemic.
“We’ve been going in every day and just fulfilling online orders,” Groeger said. “Unfortunately, online business was only…20 percent of our business so we’re down 80 percent right now, but we’re trying to hang in there with everybody.”
Despite the difficulties, the Long Island vinyl community has been supporting Looney Tunes’ efforts, Groeger said. Both Looney Tunes and Record Stop have remained active on social media, connecting with the community and posting every few days about sales and new releases.
“We’re lucky,” George Fletcher, a record collector and regular at Looney Tunes, said. “We have a nice concentration of record stores… and I think they all have their niche and they do pretty well. Hopefully all of these places make it through. It’s strange times, you know, hopefully most of these retailers are going to be able to survive.”
The vinyl community has followed their local shops online — but for one local collector, the internet can never replace a brick and mortar store.
“I’ve mostly been buying online as of late,” Andrew Acevedo, a regular at Record Stop, said. “There’s a lot of variety online, but it’s definitely preferred to go and dig through crates to find a hidden gem, or something [I] may never [have] thought to get but end up loving.”
While the internet has helped Long Island’s record stores survive the state’s shut down, it won’t ever be able to replicate the in-person experience, Berg said.
“…Most of the people I would say are really just using the record stores as a hang out, as a place to go and, you know, they want to be part of something,” he said. “I think having [the internet] is good, but the store is obviously the coolest part. Online is just a necessity.”