His vinyl mecca: Princeton Record Exchange owner draws international musicos
This article was published in the Trentonian on February 12, 2008
Nestled off Nassau Street sits the Princeton Record Exchange. Geographically speaking, it’s not a particularly important spot.
But to collectors of records — those round, vinyl things with grooves — it is the center of the universe. If you’re into LPs, the Princeton Record Exchange is the equator, the sun and the Milky Way, all rolled into one.
“See this list? This is a list of foreign record dealers,” said Barry Weisfeld, the store’s owner. “Mostly, they are small, overseas specialty stores. These guys come here to buy and bring it home to sell in their home countries.”
And it’s not just dealers. While taking a tour of the store, this reporter spotted a young man of Asian descent wearing brightly colored, neon-hued sneakers.
He looked, simply, foreign to Princeton.
“I bet he’s from Japan,” Weisfeld said. “Go ask him.”
Weisfeld, apparently, knows his clientele.
“This is my first time here,” Kazunari Kadowaki said in halting English. “I am from Kyoto, Japan, and I got here four days ago. I have been to a store in New York, then I came here, and then I’m going to Detroit. I like to listen to the records, and then I sell them back home. American music is big (in Japan). This is a very good place.”
Kadowaki dropped $272.06 on a box full of old albums, mostly non-mainstream, weird stuff.
“I will definitely be back,” he said.
According to Weisfeld, this is a just-about-everyday occurrence, people from all over the world descending to his store.
So how did it happen? How did this rectangular spot carrying a bunch of circular items become the de facto home to bunch of hip-to-be-squares?
“I was a business student at the University of Hartford in the ’70s, graduated, went on a few suit-and-tie interviews, and said, ‘Bleep this,’ ” Weisfeld said. “So I started buying records at flea markets, and taking my van to colleges.
“Over the years, I hit 26 different colleges in the Northeast, setting up in bookstores and sleeping in my van half the time. After a few years, I went batty being in a different town every week, so I decided to open a store in Princeton in 1979. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was just not going to be a local thing.”
He opened at 20 Nassau St., a 700-square foot hovel, and by the time he hung the “open” sign in the doorway, he outgrew it.
So he took a warehouse space at 20 South Tulane and turned it into a record-lover’s haven. Through the years, Weisfeld has changed with the times, and CD and DVD sales account for some 80 percent of his current business.
But it’s the records — some 50,000 of them, give or take — that have made PREX, as it’s known to true fans, one of the main stopping points for collectors.
Another selling point are the employees, who practically live in the store. In what can only be described as “incredible,” 12 of the workers have been there for more than 15 years.
“I probably overdo it on the pay and benefits,” Weisfeld admits.
That, and offering his employees a chance to do what they love.
“I’d say all of us, if we didn’t work here, would be customers,” said Brian Dornbach, who has been working at PREX since 1980. “It’s a great place to work. The co-workers are nice and cool, and tons of cool people come in every day.”
Weisfeld agrees, saying that through the years, the customers keep the business fresh for him.
“I love watching the people shop,” he said. “They’re so into it, you can see it in their eyes. There’s no background for them, just foreground. And that’s what a store can do instead of going on the Internet. I mean, it’s like this: You can look at a picture of the ocean, or you can go stand in the sand. There’s no comparison. It’s all about the experience.”
And it’s the experience that Weisfeld credits in keeping the store going strong in an atmosphere that has been unkind to music stores of all types, from large chains to the small mom-and-pop shops.
“How are we still here? I don’t know,” Weisfeld said. “I guess we just figured out how to do it best.”
This Article was written by Jeff Edelstein and Published in the Trentonian on 2/12/08. We appreciate their attention to the local businesses of Princeton, and highly recommend Trentonian Publications to all of our customers.