With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area music stores and venue owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this final edition of The F-Word series about how such businesses are surviving, CITY music writer Frank De Blase checks in with Record Archive.
This recent pandemic has ravaged the lives and careers of countless people, both here and abroad. Rochester is resilient and undoubtedly tough, but there are still scars to admire and stories to be told. Tales of dealing with distancing, wearing masks,washing our hands seemingly a thousand times a day, and self-quarantines. Wi-Fi is the new virtual commodity. COVID-19 is rendering our lives financially, emotionally, and physically compromised. It sucks.
Record Archive has been a constant in the Rochester scene for 45 years, selling recorded music in all its forms, plus a wild display of knicks and knacks and odds and ends. Alayna Alderman has been there, flashing a gregarious grin, for 35 years of the store’s existence.
Alayna Alderman, vice president and co-owner of Record Archive, has been with the company for 35 years.
The Record Archive’s vice president and co-owner with Richard Storms, Alderman is one tough lady. A pop culture champion, a retail visionary, a mover and a shaker, and a mother of three. And yet she was caught unaware in the wash of this terrible viral tsunami, like so many other business owners in the entertainment and hospitality trades.
Initially, Alderman felt shock, fear, and the ultimate sadness of laying off her entire staff, 19 employees in all.
“I was heartbroken, tearful and frustrated,” Alderman says. “Next came the wave of uncertainty of ‘How long will this last?’ and ‘Can we all survive it?’ And now it is the acceptance of knowing so many people have lost their lives during this, and it's not over. In addition, we are trying to reopen, rebuild and re-establish ourselves.”
The effects of the pandemic have also impacted Alderman on a personal level.
“Trying to stay positive and upbeat for my children has been a tremendous challenge,” she says. “Also, I simply miss my friends. The only upshot of this ‘pause’ is that it gives you time to think and identify what's really important.”
Even before the pandemic, the record industry had been hit hard as of late, with changing trends in technology and the culture of shopping. But it was “never this severe,” Alderman says.
“Discount retailers devaluing music, competing with free digital music, and the ongoing issues with distribution of physical goods in the marketplace are just a few hurdles that I must clear,” she says. “But never like this. It's eerie.”
On Friday, March 13, it was still business as usual, as the RA still hosted its Happy Hour in the Backroom Lounge. Opened in 2016, this live music venue and event space in the backroom of the record store can hold 150 rockin’ souls. and offers over 100 beers and more than 50 wines, plus spiked seltzers, hard ciders and sparkling wines.
“The room was full that night, but you could feel a heaviness in the air,” says Alderman. “The buzz went from the typical lighthearted chatter of music and beer to a nervousness of ‘What the hell is going on?’ As the reports of infections and deaths continued to climb, we decided to close.” That was on Wednesday, March 17.
Alderman (pictured) says the record store has already implemented plexi shields and sanitizing stations, according to CDC safety guidelines, in anticipation of reopening.
Flash-forward to today: Alderman has her eyes on the prize — an imminent re-opening — and has gone through all the necessary steps to ensure financial viability. These actions include obtaining a Payroll Protection Program loan from the federal government, engaging in brisk online selling at shop.recordarchive.com
(something they have always done), and ramping up listings on third-party platforms like Ebay, Discogs, and Amazon.
Record Archive is also getting its physical store ready at 33 1/3 Rockwood Street to make sure the business is compliant with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, once it is able to open again during Phase Two of New York state’s reopening plan.
“We have already installed plexi shields at the front counters, socially distancing markers on the floors, sanitizing stations throughout the space, and all the other CDC recommendations to the best of our ability,” she says.
The Backroom Lounge will have to wait a bit longer before opening, but Alderman is anticipating opening it as part of Phase Three or Four, with what she expects to be 50-percent capacity to start. She says the lounge has bookings well into 2021.
“I wouldn't say it will be back to normal or anything like that,” Alderman says.” We will be moving forward in new ways. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.