May 17, 2023

Popular Independent Princeton Record Exchange Offers 1,000s of CDs, LPs, DVDs in Every Category

SUCCESS STORY: “I think about who we are and what we offer. We are a place where people can come to be together, find special records and CDs, and talk about music.” Jon Lambert, owner of the popular Princeton Record Exchange, is proud of the store’s extraordinary selection of thousands of CDs, LPs, and DVDs, and of its long history and reputation.

By Jean Stratton

When you come to the Princeton Record Exchange, don’t be in a hurry. Plan to spend some time. It is totally intriguing!

Filled with thousands of CDs, LPs, DVDs, Blu-rays, and more, it offers every category of music, from rock and jazz to classical and country to blues and soul, rap and hip-hop, movie soundtracks, shows, and more. More than 100,000 titles in stock!

This is a special place. It has been rated a top record store in the U.S. by BuzzFeed, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, CNN, USA Today, GQ, and the Wall Street Journal, and featured in many other publications. The New York Times is quoted as saying, “Customers come from as far away as Scotland and Japan or as close as around the corner.”

In this age of online shopping and digital messaging in every way, Princeton Record Exchange (known informally as PREX) is a bricks and mortar, walk-in store. Customers can browse, find something special for their collection, and share information with each other.

As it reports in its mission statement: “Princeton Record Exchange is dedicated to providing an alternative to the streaming services and online stores that have come to dominate the music and movie retailing world. We take pride in our low pricing, the high quality of our merchandise, and the depth of our selection.”

Remarkable Story

And what a history it has! Founded by Barry Weisfeld in 1980, it is now owned by Jon Lambert, who joined the operation in 1988, served as general manager, and became owner in 2016.

It has been a remarkable story, he points out. When the store first opened, it was stocked with 15,000 recordings, many of which were hard-to-get or discontinued selections. In addition, three-quarters 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 PREX became so popular that records and customers almost seemed to be vying for the available space.

As this became an increasing concern, the store moved from its original 20 Nassau Street location to its current larger site at 20 South Tulane Street in 1985.

“We recently remodeled the store to give customers even more space,” notes Lambert. “We have over 4,500 square feet of floor space, with padded carpeting, wide aisles, bright lighting, and easy-to-browse racks of new and used LPs, CDs, DVDs, and more.”

Around 300 to 500 people come in every day, and 1,000 over the weekend, he reports. They are all ages: students, families, retirees, and serious and casual collectors. They come from the Princeton area and beyond, including all over the U.S. and also overseas. There is also a very active social media interaction.

Record Store Day

“We have lots of regular customers,” Lambert adds. “Many come every week, and some even come every day to see what is new.

“Also, every April, on the third Saturday, there is Record Store Day, when we’ll have new items that have only been released to independent record stores. Hundreds of people line up outside the store waiting until we open. This year, it was one of our best days ever. People were waiting from 4 p.m. the day before to get here when we opened.”

The store’s inventory is conveniently arranged according to category and price. There are many bargain items at $1, and 50,000 at $5 and less. Rare collectible pieces can cost far more.

Of course, an appealing feature of the PREX “MO” is the customer’s opportunity to buy and sell CDs, LPs, and DVDs. “We process between 30,000 and 40,000 pieces a month, which accounts for a constantly changing inventory,” says Lambert. “When we purchase from customers, they will get 25 percent to 40 percent of what we will sell it for. If they choose to get credit instead of cash, they will receive 10 percent more.”

Sea Change

The music and entertainment industries have undergone significant changes since PREX opened its doors, and keeping up to date and adapting to these changes is important.

“Originally, the store had LPs, 45s, and cassettes,” points out Lambert. “In the mid-1980s, CDs came along, and began to replace LPs, then the VHS movies arrived, followed by DVDs in the late ’90s.”

Then, a sea change!

“With the advent of digital file sharing, you could listen or watch on the internet, and didn’t need a separate device,” says Lambert. “This changed how people listened to music and watched movies.”

Interestingly, along with this modern day, 21st-century technology, there has been a big-time return to LP records or vinyl.
“LPs are really popular again,” says Lambert. “Some people believe they have better performance. This year, for the first time since 1987, we sold more LPs than CDs.”

In the same way it affected nearly every aspect of life and business, COVID-19 had a major impact on the Record Exchange’s operation.

“We were closed for three months, and that was just as we were planning a big event for our 40th anniversary,” explains Lambert. “When we reopened, two trends converged after COVID. Everyone had been at home, and many people had a lot of records and CDs they were listening to. After they came out of their houses again, a lot of people decided to sell what they had, and they came to us.

“At the same time, other people wanted to get more and add to their collections, and they came to us to buy. So business was good! We had 20 people lined up outside waiting to come in the day we opened. That felt really good.”

Courtesy and Respect

That he is able to work in the music industry is a blessing, he says. “I have always loved music. It is so important and meaningful. It deepens our experiences in so many ways.

“It pleases me, too, that with my store, I can share my outlook of how to treat people. My goal has been to create an atmosphere of courtesy and respect for everyone — customers and staff. People like to come here. They feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. There is an engagement factor. When people come in, they pick out the record, take it out of the cover, and look forward to hearing all the songs. The average time spent here is a half hour to an hour.”

It is not a one-person operation, he emphasizes. “We are a real team here. We have an exceptional 16-member staff who are knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful to customers. Eight of them have been with us for 20 years.”

Quality control is important, he adds, pointing out that, “We check everything visually, and can clean rare and special items with a cleaning machine. Our returns are less than one half of one percent!”

The store also holds events and performances from time to time, including for students, and it has also been the scene of first dates and marriage proposals. In addition, it is very involved in the community, and partners with local organizations such as the Arts Council of Princeton, Princeton Public Library, McCarter Theatre, and many local merchants and charitable organizations to promote and encourage participation in the arts.

It has been the recipient of awards and citations from the Municipality of Princeton and the State of New Jersey. The store also offers an online service of a curated selection. In addition, gift cards, PREX T-shirts, and tote bags are available.

Recycling is a wonderful way to share, and PREX has brought it to new heights. As Lambert says, “Come to see the latest, and if you come once, you will come again! We think we are a special place. People walk away very happy after being here.”

Hours are Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For further information call, (609) 921-0881. Website: