“We are here to recycle CDs, DVDs, and vinyl into the hands of music and movie lovers who can appreciate it all over again.”
Barry Weisfeld, owner of Princeton Record Exchange, is enthusiastic about the success of his longtime business, neatly tucked away on South Tulane Street.
Within, customers will find an amazing treasure trove. 150,000 new and used CDs, DVDs, and LPs fill every shelf and rack in the store. Every musical taste can be satisfied. “We buy new stock every day, with thousands of titles arriving every week, so our stock changes constantly,” says Mr. Weisfeld. New releases, rock, jazz, classical, imports, oldies, blues, world, shows, soundtracks, and folk are all well-represented.
One of the largest independent music and movie stores in the country, the spacious, well-lit Record Exchange carries a truly wide-ranging inventory in excellent condition at reasonable prices.
“We get 600 to 700 people coming in each day,” points out general manager Jon Lambert. “Also, we have a great staff. Their dedication, knowledge, hard work, and insight are outstanding. Many of them have been here more than 15 years, and they share their knowledge with the customers. And also, the customers like to share information with us. We have ongoing give and take. That is one of the great things about an independent store.”
This remarkable story began in 1980, when Mr. Weisfeld first opened Princeton Record Exchange at 20 Nassau Street, following a successful — and strenuous — career buying and selling records at college book stores along the east coast. A stop at the Princeton University Store introduced him to this area, and after subsequent visits, he decided to settle here.
When he first opened the shop, it was stocked with 15,000 recordings, many of which were hard-to-get or discontinued selections. In addition, ¾ of the inventory was new. This is a reversal of the situation today, in which 75 percent of the inventory is used, 25 percent new.
Business began to take off early on, as customers soon found they could turn in their own records for cash or credit toward a new purchase, and have the fun of seeking suitable replacements. Word got around, and the Exchange became so popular that records and customers almost seemed to be vying for the available space.
“Space was clearly an issue. We definitely needed more,” points out Mr. Weisfeld. So in 1985, they moved to the current South Tulane street location.
Customers love browsing through the incredible selection, even sitting down on the carpet to get a better look at the lower shelves, he adds. “Some stay all day, and then come back the next day.”
In the classical section, CDs, LPs, and DVDs of orchestral works, string quartets, piano sonatas, chamber music, operas, 20th century, and vocals are available. In the DVD section, there are over 20,000 DVDs of music, TV, children’s, Disney, sci-fi, action, thrillers, comedy, drama, classics, foreign, avant-garde, and documentaries.
Bargains abound for the serious or casual music lover, many who visit regularly, not only from the Princeton area, but from such places as New York City, Asia, and Europe to check out the large, ever-changing inventory. There is ample room to look around, check covers, and shoppers are encouraged to browse and meet other knowledgeable customers.
The most popular sellers right now are classic rock (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix), modern jazz, and classical, says Mr. Lambert. Trends come along all the time as to what is popular, but these three categories remain strong.
Regular customers come in all the time — both buyers and sellers. “We buy and sell tens of thousands of items every month,” he reports. “And our customers are all ages, anywhere from 15 to 80! There is a core group of guys in their late 20s to 50s, who are serious collectors.
“Also, every April on the third Saturday, there is ‘Record Store Day’, when we’ll have new releases that have only been released to independent record stores. Hundreds of people line up outside the store waiting until we open. We also get a big crowd on Black Friday after Thanksgiving for limited editions and audiofile vinyl.”
In addition, he points out that the store can receive as many as 30 collections a day, when people bring in their CDs, DVDs, and LPs. “People can bring in items for us to look at if they have less than 100 pieces. If there are more, they can call, let us know what they have and make an appointment. We examine everything very carefully, and we guarantee everything against defect. In fact, one half of less than one percent of items we sell are ever returned. The customers who bring in items are often moving or downsizing, and sometimes it’s an estate sale.”
“I like going out and buying a big selection,” adds Mr. Weisfeld. “You never know what you’ll come upon.”
Mr. Lambert agrees. “I’ve been here 24 years, and every single day, I see a title that I’ve never seen before. It is never dull!”
Both Mr. Weisfeld and Mr. Lambert are proud of Princeton Record Exchange’s growing reputation. It has been named in the top 20 record stores in Rolling Stone; in the top 10 in GQ; top 10 in Time; and in the top five in the Wall Street Journal.
“We went from a little store to a thriving operation, which is getting national attention. Three things set us apart: breadth of selection, low prices, and quality control.”
Customers will find an array of prices, including more than 50,000 CDs, DVDs, and LPs priced at $4.99 or less. The store is currently paying up to $4 per disk for strong-selling CDs and DVDs in excellent condition; up to $2 for strong-selling LPs in excellent condition; and up to $100 or more for rarities in great demand.
Princeton Record Exchange is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 to 6. (609) 921-0881. Website: www.prex.com.