In our next edition of Records In The Time Of Corona, we visit with Darren from Revilla Grooves and Gear in Milltown, NJ. One of N.J.’s premier and go-to record spots for diggers and collectors of all kinds, Darren recently moved to a larger space and expanded his audio gear section. He’s got a steady stream of customers and is known for his ultra-clean vinyl and selections. Here’s how the record store owner is coping with the record game during these trying times.
How has the global pandemic affected your day to day record store?
Our doors have been closed since March 20th. I had to temporarily let my four part-time employees go. Three of them are college-age and live at home, so their situations aren’t that bad. My right-hand man and brother, Brandon, has a family, so I’m a bit worried for him. I’ve been giving him hours when I can. He takes care of testing and cleaning our Audio Gear, which can then be sold online. Other than that, I’m in the locked shop, alone, daily, trying to pick through our back stock to find interesting items to sell online.
What are you doing differently to get sales?
When I started this business back in 2002 or so, I was selling records online and online only through eBay. Over the years I began selling audio gear there as well. So, when the shutdown struck, I immediately went back online. Now I use the Discogs and Audiogon platforms. They have both come a long way in ease of use since I last sold online, over four years ago. I no longer use eBay. Some titles sell well through Instagram as well.
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?
Most of my social media posts revolve around New Arrivals in the shop and occasional “Check Out what it’s like to be a digger” posts. I now post Newly Added to Discogs videos and “these items for sale, who wants ’em” type posts. I’ve also taken to posting the occasional ” this is what I’m listening to take my mind off the current tragic reality” post, as well as the ” I miss the old normal” pic or video. It’s really not a time to be crate flexing if you’re a store, so I’m trying to tone it down a bit. Online selling has been a very good stopgap. Nothing beats the vibe of a record store and the face to face interaction, but as far as keeping a business in the black, Discogs has been fantastic.
Are people still getting rid of collections at this time?
In order to save money, I’ve put a hold on all of my advertising. I’m still getting collection calls, but I am not doing any house calls at the moment. I’m taking numbers and scheduling for as far out as June. I’m hopeful we can get going again by Summer, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. I feel like once the stay at home orders are lifted, there are going to be a great deal of people in need of some extra cash. There may very well be a large number of collections hitting the market. We’ll see. I’ll be ready.
Is this downtime at the physical shop forcing you to dig through your own collection more?
We’ve been fortunate. I’ve been buying records at a very rapid pace for the last decade. There are thousands of great titles still on the floor and in boxes in the warehouse. Even so, I have dug through my personal shelves for some heavy hitters. I’m reserving some really nice titles for the re-opening. Once I feel comfortable opening our doors again, I’d like to have some serious beauties up on the walls. Ultimately, the length of the quarantine will decide whether I can hold back on the rarer titles.
What gems have you revisited in your own collection?
I just pulled HMS Donovan out last night. That’s a long time favorite that I haven’t heard in a few years. I’ve been enjoying the Exotica records I’ve been pulling for the last two years. I start many a day with some live Grateful Dead from the early 70s. It always puts a smile on my face as I pack up records to ship. I’m also spending more time with different audio systems I have in various rooms. My customized Tech 1200 is finally getting the playing time it deserves.
Are you doing anything else non-record related during this time?
My wife has a tremendous library of books. I’ve been reading more than ever. I’ve also been hooked on the 60s and 70s Horror, Exploitation, and “Occult” movies. The plots are usually so stupid, I can have them on in the background while I list records. Films from Roger Corman, Jess Franco, Mario Bava, etc. Movies about 70’s Vans and King of the Witches are always fun.
May I add, I really miss Hockey.
What has this global pandemic shown you about the record game?
Records are less of a novelty item and more of an essential for some people. More like an addiction really. I’m a vinyl junkie myself. I know, if I’m feeling awful, anxious, scared, digging for records is a go-to that makes me feel better. Some of the most emotional experiences I’ve had during all of this have been in front of my stereo, listening to a favorite album. I’ve bought a few records online myself recently, even though I should be saving money. We just can’t help it, can we? I don’t believe the vinyl market is recession-proof, but my business grew all throughout the 2008 financial crisis and is more than surviving now. Maybe pursuing this labor of love wasn’t a frivolous decision after all.
Any tips for record heads that are going nuts by not being able to go to a record store?
Your health and the health of those around you are more important than the dig. The records will be there when we come out of quarantine. In the meantime, keep checking Instagram. The vinyl community there is super strong. r/vinyl on Redditt is fantastic too. You can get into super long conversations with other diggers. Redditt is often very funny as well. It’s a good way to kill some time and come away smiling.
Last comments, whatever you want.
I’ve been going at this for a really long time now. The constant phone calls and long trips through NYC traffic to find the diamonds in the rough were beginning to wear on me at the beginning of the year. After a month of working in a closed shop, I really miss it. All of it. The phone calls, the road trips, the deep digs, the over the counter collections. I miss our customers. When we’re open we have some really great people coming through here, every day. Many have reached out to wish us well. Many have lamented the fact they can’t come to visit. I wish we could shake hands, chat about music and lifelike we always do, but not yet. It’s a contactless pick up at the back garage door at best. I’m no doctor, but I don’t believe this will last forever. When the word comes down that we can reopen, we will, cautiously, with some new measures in place. Until then, I wish all of my friends, family clients, and fellow Vinyl Addicts good health and mental stability as we work together to get through this.
More about Revilla Grooves and Gear here.