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Houston record stores are all adapting to the new normal and pushing into the future.
Houston record stores are all adapting to the new normal and pushing into the future.
Photo By Gladys Fuentes

Digging Into The Future: Record Stores Are Pushing Into The New Normal

Record Store Day, like everything else, had to be canceled due to COVID-19. Originally set for April 18, organizers initially pushed back to June 20 but have since re-formatted the event as Record Store Day Drops, making it a three date event in August, September and October. 

Instead of a one-day, nationwide event where music fans line up to try to snag limited edition new releases, the event will now take place on August 29, September 16 and October 24.  The official list of releases for the drops will be announced on June 1, but it's not certain if the original list of 2020 releases will stay the same, as some albums' release dates have been pushed even further into the future due to COVID-19.

Quinn Bishop, owner of Cactus Music, usually has one of the busiest Record Store Days in town and though he, like many others was sad to see the event canceled, he understands that the new approach is the best for music fans and stores alike.

“This puts three events on the calendar that music fans can look forward to and allows us to champion. It’s not going to be the Record Store Day of the past unfortunately, but these Record Store Day Drops are a way to recapture some of the joy that is completely lost with us losing Record Store Day,” says Bishop.

Record Store Day Drops allows stores to take it one order at a time, alleviating some of the financial stress of making a large order of material that cannot be returned if unsold while simultaneously benefiting music fans by giving them three chances to get what they’d like.

“I’m confident that the Record Store Day team is doing everything that they can to make quality events out of this with the best releases and with the sanctioned stores best interest in mind,” adds Bishop.

Houston has a solid number of diverse and quality record stores in town and they have all been pushing forward during the shutdown as best as possible. When all non essential stores were forced to shut down in March, most of Houston’s shops turned to social media and online sales of their products.

Though stores are now able to open at 25 percent capacity, not all are equipped or feel comfortable doing so for many reasons. Most stores simply don't have the manpower to disinfect every single item touched or to police their customers to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and discourage them from touching their personal belongings after doing so.

“Part of the experience of being in a record store is digging through crates,” says Tomas Escalante, owner of Sig’s Lagoon. “For our store it's the experience of coming in and the overwhelming amount of stuff on the walls,” he adds. The recently expanded mid main record store lines its walls with original newspaper clippings marking some of music history's biggest stories.

Cactus Records, Sig's Lagoon and Deep End Records have maintained their curbside service throughout this pandemic. All of the stores agree they will open when the time is right for them and their customers based on the science and facts around the virus in our surrounding area.  For now, music fans should keep an eye on the stores social media accounts where they are listing amazing items daily. 

“It's a challenge and it's not the challenge by any means of what everyone is going through, but just for my store.  It's basically me doing it and being innovative of how we accept payment and get it out to the car, it's different and we have to adapt to it because that's what the new norm is,” says Escalante.

Cactus Records has been offering deals of the day and a more personalized experience of curbside shopping where customers can call in with a genre, format and price range and trust the expertise of the Cactus crew to select items for them. They also have an app that can be easily downloaded to make shopping online even simpler.

Sig’s Lagoon has been busy on social media highlighting amazing albums dug out by Escalante himself and available for order online or over the phone and available for pick up during store hours. Recently Sig’s Lagoon spotlighted local band The Suffers offering their album Everything Here for purchase with net proceeds being donated to the band, just another way the Houston music community is banding together in these trying times.

Sig’s Lagoon and Deep End also offer an extensive amount of art and collectibles which make great gifts or purchases for those looking to brighten up their homes they are spending so much time in nowadays. Deep End is housed inside of Insomnia Gallery and typically relies on its larger art shows to draw in record buyers.

“Seriously, we are so gracious and humbled by the support that we've received from the community,” says Deep End owner Chris Unclebach. “In these kind of uncertain times we are absolutely non-essential. For the soul you can argue things, but you don't need these things to actually live. People have just been amazing supporting us on the level they have and I would just like to tell people thank you.”

Echoing a similar sentiment Escalante says, “I’ve had customers check in on me and it means a lot to me and even just buying something, it means a lot." 

Sound Exchange, Vinal Edge and AllRecords have all decided to open their doors to business, as soon as it was permitted by the state. Sound Exchange and Vinal Edge are operating with normal business hours but limiting the amount of customers allowed in the store at one time and requiring everyone to wear a face mask and use the hand sanitizer provided upon entering.

When asked if he’s ever gotten any grief from customers about having to wear a mask Chuck Roast, owner of Vinal Edge Records accurately compares it to getting into the habit of bringing your own bags to grocery stores. “It’s just something to get used to; this is the new normal. We do occasionally see the adamant non mask wearing macho type, but not too much.”

“I just feel like there are such varying opinions about stores reopening and those are complicated and confused by inconsistent messages from the government and people just don't know what to do,” says Bishop, who admits his regular customers have been supportive but there has been the occasional complainer of their curbside-only policy.  He tells customers to stay tuned for an announcement regarding their reopening soon.

“I think it's important to remember that everyone has stories that are unique to them, and the same is true of the cherished independent businesses that you frequent. At face value, you cannot know their circumstances and I would just encourage people to be respectful and don't be judgmental,” he adds.

Most record stores did not receive the small business loans given out because of the pandemic and are now having to hustle twice as hard to survive and find ways to stay open and support their staff.

Dualtone Records has launched a campaign to help out independent record stores nationwide with a pre-sale T-shirt campaign with 100 percent of net proceeds going back to independent retail stores.

For those who still have money to spend Bishop advises, "Shop today so that you are able to shop tomorrow, and that's not just record stores, that's restaurants, book stores, your favorite place to get coffee, whatever it is be safe and frequent those." 

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