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MUSIC

As retooled Record Store Day events loom, Columbia shops push forward through tough 2020

Keep on Spinning

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CD shelves at Papa Jazz Record Shoppe/photo by Thomas Hammond

Record Store Day has become a necessary shot of life for indie shops.

The annual event, created in 2007 by a group of independent music retailers, brings hundreds of special and exclusive limited-edition LP releases to non-big-box stores like Columbia’s Papa Jazz Record Shoppe and West Columbia’s Scratch N’ Spin. On the occasion’s typical date in April, collectors routinely line up to splurge on rare offerings by a wide-ranging array of artists.

“Our two big events every year are Free Comic Book Day and Record Store Day,” says Eric Woodard, the owner of Scratch N’ Spin, which sells music, movies, comics and collectibles.

“It’s a huge deal for us,” says Alex McCollum, co-manager of Papa Jazz. “It’s our biggest day of the year. The second biggest day of the year is Black Friday, probably.”

So it was a big blow when Record Store Day had to nix this spring’s annual shopping day. But the organization is trying to make up some of these losses with a series of monthly August, September and October Record Store Day Drops. The drops have smaller product lists and were designed as scaled-down, safer ways to help out indie music retailers. The first of those drops is Saturday, Aug. 29.

It’s uncertain, though, whether these new efforts will actually shrink the size of the crowds waiting to get into stores like Papa Jazz or Scratch N’ Spin.

“This has never happened before,” McCollum offers. “We have all sorts of theories as to whether or not the line is going to be long as long as it is normally, or if it’s going to be a fraction of that. Theoretically, this means that you’re going to have a third of the normal crowd, but we have no idea what to expect in terms of people showing up. We’re brand new to this, that’s for sure.”

Regardless of the size of the crowd waiting outside, both stores will be limiting their in-store capacity, requiring masks and taking other measures to keep the occasion as safe as possible.

“We’re being very careful about the amount of people we let into the building,” Woodard details. “Of course masks are required, and we’ll have hand sanitizer stations at the front. We’re also going to line the walls with all the Record Store Day stuff, and it’s spread out in a U-shape across the back of the store. That way, folks can filter in easily, see what’s available, grab what they need and come check out that way. In other words, you don’t have to worry about people clamoring to get to it or bottlenecks and things like that.”

It’s going to be more of a challenge for Papa Jazz, though. Scratch N’ Spin is a 5,000 square-foot store, and Papa Jazz is considerably smaller, which has forced it to limit in-store shopping to a handful of customers at a time for the past few months, a policy that will be extended to this month’s drop.

“We will be only letting in five customers at a time,” McCollum says. “They’ll have 15 minutes to do their shopping, and then as soon as those 15 minutes are up we’ll rotate the next five people in. Our goal is essentially that we will operate as strictly Record Store Day business until the entire line is gone, and once the line has gone through, we’ll try to operate as normal.”

At this point, both Woodard and McCollum are used to the curveballs that 2020 is throwing at them, whether that means temporarily shutting down their stores entirely or having to strictly enforce social distancing policies. And both stores have taken a financial hit.

Woodard says that Scratch N’ Spin’s in-store shopping has dropped off, but their online sales have gone up considerably.

“You can definitely tell there’s a big difference in business,” he reports, “What we found was that whenever the pandemic kicked in, there were many more people staying home shopping online. So we saw our online business go up, and that really helps support the physical brick-and-mortar side of the store.”

“We’re probably operating at about 60 percent right now,” McCollum says, “and we’re in a place where we could definitely benefit from things either turning around or some financial assistance from the government again. We were lucky enough to get a small-business loan earlier on in the year that helped keep the staff paid through the really tough time where we completely had our doors shut.”

McCollum is quick to add, though, that as uncertain as things have been, he and the rest of the staff at Papa Jazz consider themselves lucky.

“The talk around the shop is that we’re happy to still be open,” he concludes.

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