Records In The Time Of Corona: HoldFast Records

The next record shop we visited with for the Records In The Time Of Corona series is HoldFast Records in Asbury Park, NJ. Joe Kukas and company, have carved out quite a niche for themselves in the City by the Sea. They have turned up some pretty incredible records over the years (multiple copies of deep, NJ funk, crazy jazz, punk rock, and of course reggae. Much reggae, among other records). Joe talked with us candidly about how he’s going through this crisis with HoldFast and the Asbury Park and surrounding vinyl record community, and his thoughts on how this crisis has affected the vinyl record game as a store owner.

How has the global pandemic affected your day to day record store?
The Global Pandemic affected our daily operations almost instantly, we went from “maybe we will stay open on weekends” to a mad scramble. We stopped daily operations as soon as there was talk of shutdowns, quarantines, etc., we moved our entire online inventory from our shop to our basement. The overall logistics and labor of making a move that quick was overwhelming, we made the move in 48 hours. We moved about 7,000 records and 10 thousand CDs, not including the “on deck” to be listed stock. We will keep the brick and mortar part of our business closed until we feel comfortable that we aren’t putting customers at risk.

What are you doing differently to get sales?
We have approached getting sales a little bit differently. We have built our business around a first come first served, no holds, everyone gets a fair shot at good records in the shop attitude. It has changed now because customers outside the area are getting the chance to have the same shot at buying good records cheap as the guy who lives around the corner. It’s been fun to watch. We actually check the timestamps to see who gets the records, we really are nerds it’s almost embarrassing.

You always have a great presence online (IG specifically), can you explain if you’re doing anything different, and how selling online mostly has helped or hurt you now?
I personally believe just selling online has helped bc a lot of people that have never been in the shop are now seeing the day to day records that we sell, not just highlights of good collections. They are seeing the $5 reggae 45, not just the heavy hitters. They get a better understanding of what we are about. Instagram has become our link to our customers. They just don’t walk in and say “ummmm I want something rootsy” or “you know I’m looking for death metal”. It’s been like a pop quiz on what my regulars are looking for. It has been very cool to message with our regulars, we never realized how many people we have in our shop’s universe. It’s very cool. We are very lucky.

Are people still getting rid of collections at this time?
The hardest part about getting records since the start of the Pandemic has been doing it safely, gloves, masks, cleaning the collections, etc. Buying someone’s collection is a very personal thing, when you’re wearing a mask and gloves it takes some of the sincerity out of it. Making a deal is hard when you can’t see someone’s facial expressions, so the negotiating is weird and awkward and a little more of a guessing game. You can’t tell if someone is smiling or wincing in pain from the offer. Our sources for collections have still been pretty strong, but logistics have been more complicated. The direct purchases from households etc. have slowed down a little but overall people are still selling. I think that will go into overdrive as this drags on.

Is this downtime at the physical shop forcing you to dig through your own collection more?
I have spent a lot of my time the last 10 years pushing to keep the shop stocked and open, and this Global Pandemic has given me the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in years: listen to records not just as background while I work, but as a hobby again. I found myself stacking 45’s and making playlists in my head and just listening. In the fog of trying to sell records to make money, sometimes you lose sight of what you’re selling. It’s been refreshing to listen to a track and not out a price on it.

What gems have you revisited in your own collection?
I guess the real “gems” that I’ve pulled out of my personal collection over the last month were not the records themselves, but the memories of the moments and where I bought the records. Buying stacks of 45’s and dubplates in Kingston, JA, Rockers, Studio 1, crazy dancehall 12’s in a crack house with dudes fighting in the front yard (in the US). That’s the real gems in all of this, the stories of what we are willing to go through to get records and play them for yourself or somebody and watch them get that vinyl high.

Are you doing anything else non-record related during this time?
The only thing I do non-record related is to be a husband and a Dad, and clean the hell out of my yard.

What has this global pandemic shown you about the record game?
The Global Pandemic has shown me a lot about what is truly an amazing thing about the record game: Mother F’ers are crazy!! I feel like people are going through heavy withdrawal. We all know there is a certain amount of crazy that makes us chase records like madmen. Most record nerd,s like myself, have spent a good part of their life either wanting to sit in a room alone with records for hours with no guilt or have wanted to play records for a captive audience- here’s our chance!! We have nothing to do so we can play records for hours or we have a captive online audience to spin to. It’s a win/win.

Any tips for record heads that are going nuts by not being able to go to a record store?
My advice for record nerds that can’t get into a shop is simple. Support the shops now, so they are there when we get some normalcy back. Dig deep into your collections, check out B-sides, read interviews, and find out what/who influenced the bands you’re listening to. Digging for information is just as important as finding records. Pick a genre that you aren’t into and try to find something to like about it, open your mind, don’t go deeper into your bubble.

Last comments, whatever you want.
“Culture is worth the consequences”. These are words that a Rasta said to me sitting on a curb in Kingston while I was down there on one of our many trips to the island. We had just spent 4 hours digging in a warehouse in a rough part of the city. I was having a “why the hell do I do this moment”. I kept thinking: I have an amazing wife and kid and here I am in a pretty lawless part of a city in another country trying to find a record. My point is, we all love records, and if what we have to do to get back to some normalcy is STAY HOME and listen to records than let’s do it. Yes, it’s scary right now. There’s a lot of crazy shit going on, but records will make that go away for a little while. A lot of us sell records because we love music and we live music, it’s obviously not about the money bc there are easier ways to make money. The record community is huge and knows no borders, I can promise you record store owners all over the world are working hard to keep the culture alive and we know that every day we are closer to getting back to where we want to be: sitting behind the counter bitching about something, that’s where we belong. To my fellow record nerds: Blessings from New Jersey, and HoldFast Records.

Instagram- @holdfastasburypark

Discogs seller- holdfastasburypark

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