How one of New Brunswick’s oldest independent record stores is adapting to the new normal of working from home.
If we’ve learned anything about independent businesses over the past few weeks, it’s that they can be incredibly resourceful and quick to adapt to change when need be. For some retail business owners that means serving customers on the sidewalk, doing home deliveries and partnering with other small businesses to exchange services and share resources.
March has proven to be a particularly challenging month for Gordie Tufts, owner of Backstreet Records, one New Brunswick’s longest running independent record stores with locations in both Fredericton and Saint John. Eleven days before the province declared a state of emergency in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, an apartment above Tufts’ Saint John location was flooded causing extensive water damage to thousands of dollars in stock.
“On Sunday March 8, water flowed from the third floor laundry room down to our space on the ground floor, damaging the ceiling and a carpet which is a write off,” said Tufts. “Insurance will not cover these. Close to $5000 [in records] was water damaged from our vinyl sections. Insurance is being processed for the records.
“Then as we know, a state of emergency was put into effect on Thursday March 19 closing both Backstreet locations,” he said.
Though complicated and undoubtedly a major setback for any independent business, Tufts says the events of March 2020 are not the first major challenges he has had to face in his 40+ years selling records.
“The Saint John shop was broken into and torched on Christmas Eve 1982, all was a loss,” he said. “So this current water damage is minor, but still a royal pain. With the COVID-19 closures it will match the down time of the 1982 fire. When the fire happened, I had not yet opened the Fredericton location, so it was a bit less of a blow to the loss of sales.”
While Tufts works to adapt his business practices in an effort to keep some sales happening, Backstreet’s Fredericton store manager Eric Hill is busy doing the same.
“Eric is doing a tremendous job and keeping things afloat in Fredericton. No pun intended,” said Tufts. “I on the other hand, I am learning the social media retail thing and asking for tons of advice on internet marketing. It’s a learning curve for me.”
Besides putting a stop to traditional retail traffic, many of Backstreet Records’ distributors have also temporarily shut down, delaying the arrival of new releases to both locations.
“Regulars are used to seeing us post new arrivals and featured releases, but now it really is a musical lifeline in both directions.”
“I went from having plans of being in Portland, Maine on Friday and Saturday to having to close the store to customers the following Thursday,” said Hill. “I had a couple of orders that were in the process of being filled and shipped and obviously contemplated cancelling them. But even before we closed I had a pretty steady stream of online inquiries about titles coming in.
The retail record industry is a fragile one. While independent record stores like Backstreet have been credited in many ways for helping facilitate vinyl’s comeback having never given up on the format, the existence of any niche market retailer remains challenging. This week, Spin Magazine reported vinyl record sales are currently the lowest the industry has seen in more than 50 years thanks to the many precautionary measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. But for a business and an industry known for constant uphill battles, Backsteet Records is well versed in the feast or famine reality of music retail.
Through regular posts on social media, both Hill and Tufts have been able to keep their customers interested and up to date on recent additions to the new arrival bins. By accepting e-transfers and handling local deliveries or arranged pickups, both Backstreet locations are managing to keep their customers happy with new music at a time when they probably need it the most.
“Regulars are used to seeing us post new arrivals and featured releases, but now it really is a musical lifeline in both directions,” said Hill. “It really isn’t a substitute for having open doors, but it’s been illuminating to see how ready people are to adapt.
“I’ve been mostly doing pickups from home because I’m staying home as much as possible, as prescribed,” he said.
Customers looking for their next vinyl fix can follow Backstreet Records through the links below.