Record shops in the area that had been quieted by the pandemic get to turn up their volume with upcoming Record Store Days on Saturdays, October 24 and November 28.
Record Store Day events are part of an effort that started in 2008 to draw attention to the nearly 1,400 independent record shops around the world.
“This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities,” notes a statement from the Record Store Days group founded by several independent record store workers.
While usually an annual one-day event, this year the pandemic has organizers promoting several smaller events called RSD Drops. They’re designed to help shops provide new releases without the party atmosphere that attracts hundreds of music enthusiasts.
With a little help from the U.S.1 archives, we’re joining the celebration by highlighting the reopened shops participating in the low-key — yet important — festivities.
Jon Lambert is the owner of the Princeton Record Exchange on Tulane Street in Princeton.
He purchased the 40-year-old community fixture from founder Barry Weisfeld, who first started selling records at the Princeton University Store.
Records range in price from bargain-bin items under $5 to genuine rarities that are $800 or more. The store sells 30 to 50,000 items a month, with about half being CDs, 40 percent vinyl, and the rest DVDs. Rock, jazz, and classical are its bestselling genres.
As U.S. 1 reported about the genres, “There is general rock (which he says always has been his best on-average seller), jazz, classical, opera, country, funk, and various crossover genres, though the store doesn’t get too specific.”
The article further notes that “part of the Record Exchange’s allure is a simple fact from Economics 101 — a business’ share of the market is partially determined by the amount of competition. Apart from the Record Collector in Bordentown, which specializes in live music as much as the pre-recorded kind, the Record Exchange has very little competition. For years it shared Downtown Princeton with Sam Goody, a mainstream chain that, like most of its kind, went belly up when the Internet and iPod made it possible to download 2,000 songs into something the size of a small Post-It pad.”
There is general rock (which he says always has been his best on-average seller), jazz, classical, opera, country, funk, and various crossover genres, though the store doesn’t get too specific.
You will, for example, find electronica, but there are no further breakdowns into trance, trip-hop, and down-tempo.
Lambert worked in the store for 35 years prior to owning it and attempting to steer it and its employees (there were 15 before COVID-19).
Princeton Record Exchange, South 20 Tulane Street, Princeton, current hours, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 609-921-0881 or www.prex.com.
The Record Collector in Bordentown’s John Chrambanis learned to harness his financial resources working with his father at the family’s Trenton restaurants, including the New Presto and Old Tavern.
According to another U.S. 1 report, “Born and raised in Trenton, Chrambanis says he has always had an interest in music.
“The opportunity (to work with music) came from his friend Tom Giraldi. He had a small record store on South Broad Street in Trenton but was also working in his father’s upholstery business. In a move that helped both of them, Chrambanis bought the shop for $10,000.”
He said his business was good on South Broad Street, but “I just needed a larger space, and it didn’t make sense to me to be paying such high rent for such a small space, so first we ended up going across the river to Morrisville, right on the corner past the ‘Trenton Makes’ bridge, and then we had to leave that place because the landlord didn’t keep up the building. We looked around for a building we could buy, but at that time everything was so expensive.”
Finally in 2006 he saw the “for rent” sign for a building at 358 Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown, and he asked the owner if he could buy the building outright.
In addition to vinyl, CDs, and DVDs, the Record Collector has held hundreds of successful in-store concerts with strong regional and national acts ranging from the nationally known to the regionally known.
The first big shows were Pete Best (the Beatles’ first drummer) and Peter Tork of the Monkees and organized with the assistance of Randy Ellis — aka Randy Now.
As Chrambanis told U.S. 1, “Randy and I were booking almost two shows a week with opening acts, so you’re looking at four bands a week times 50-some weeks. We did that for a couple of years, and then Randy left, and now he’s doing his own thing.”
The Record Collector, 358 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. Open Saturday, October 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular hours, Friday and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. 609-324-0880 or www.the-record-collector.com.
At the Man Cave in Bordentown, Randy Now is continuing to do what he has done for decades: promoting shows, DJ-ing in clubs, hosting radio shows, selling records, and staying connected to many styles of music.
Those old enough to remember the glory days of Trenton’s City Gardens music scene in the 1980s are also likely to remember promoter Randy Now.
Born and raised in Bordentown, Now, whose real name is Randy Ellis, says in a past interview that he was working as a mailman in his early 20s when he spotted a notice in a local newspaper for this new club called City Gardens on Calhoun Street, a rough area of Trenton.
“I saw the ad and called up the guy and I said ‘I’m a new wave DJ.’ I was kicking around a couple of other bars in central Jersey, and it wasn’t going over. I wasn’t playing Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top, I was playing the B-52s and Ramones and Talking Heads,” he says. Now began DJ-ing at City Gardens one night a week and gradually began to draw larger and larger crowds to his new wave dance party nights.
Asked why he changed his last name from Ellis to Now, he said, “somehow in the late ’70s everyone had a stage name, so I came up with ‘Now.’ Glad I came up with that idea, as 30-plus years later, I’m still Randy Now!”
As noted, Ellis spent four years booking concerts and helping to establish the Record Collector before deciding to take the plunge and open his own shop.
There, he says, he “sells all kind of stuff you don’t really need, like specialty candies and sodas in bottles and CDs and DVDs, as well as pendants, posters, and memorabilia.”
During non-pandemic times, Now also produces events that include Jersey-centric comedian Uncle Floyd Vivino, keyboardist David Sancious from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Larry Kirwan from Irish rock band Black 47 with Irish poet Paul Muldoon, blues musicians John Hammond and Rory Block, and dozens of other comedians and multi-dimensional performing artists.
Randy Now’s Man Cave, 134 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. Open Saturday, October 24, noon to 6 p.m. Current hours are Thursdays through Saturdays, noon to 9 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 4:30 p.m. 609-424-3766 or www.mancavenj.com.
As Record Store Day organizers point out, “A participating store is defined as a brick and mortar retailer whose main primary business focuses on full time, stand-alone physical store locations, with a major commitment to music retail, and whose company is independently owned, and not publicly traded. (In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores — not online retailers or corporate behemoths).”
The hard reality of such an enterprise was something brought up recently by Princeton Record Exchange’s Lambert during an appearance on an MSNBC business segment and his statement to political leaders, “If you truly want to help small business owners, I’m begging you for some sort of rent relief. That to me is the number one issue.”
The second may be people who love records to stop in on days other than Record Store Days.