GRAND RAPIDS — Listening to records during the stay-at-home order may seem essential for passionate music lovers, but during this pandemic, vinyl shops have been closed to the public since mid March.
In Grand Rapids, Vertigo Music decided to get creative with its sales model and has managed to keep some cash flow coming through its doors at 129 S. Division Ave.
“We’ve been doing some home delivery and some curbside,” said Vertigo owner Herm Baker. “We’ll also continue to list more and more things on Discogs [a record listings and commerce website] — that’s been a saving grace for us at this time.”
Record Store Day, the biggest annual sales day for independent shops across the country, was delayed from April 18 to June 20 because of COVID-19. It was a crushing financial blow for shops that depend on that one-day sales boom. Luckily for Vertigo, Baker said his lean business model is helping his shop weather the COVID-19 storm.
“We are in good shape,” he said. “Our tale is a good tale, and a part of it is because we’ve always run a fairly tight staff and rent is reasonable. We keep our overhead low.”
“It’s just [employee] Brandon Hill and I doing mail orders,” he added. “No Paycheck Protection Program, no loans and our rent is being paid on time. We have rent covered through June at this point and utilities are covered. We have very little debt, that’s always been our thing.”
As for the future, Baker said his retail shop is proceeding with caution.
“We should hopefully be able to come out of this sometime in June, fairly unscathed,” he said. “Although, having said all of that, we’re still paying rent and utilities, so every month we are still probably going back slightly financially. We’re not making a ton of money on Discogs right now. We’re listing things to move, pricing to sell.”
With stacks of sanitized mail orders being boxed up and shipped out of his storefront, Baker said one hurdle has been the U.S. Post Office.
“It’s been terrible in Michigan specifically,” Baker said, recounting an incident involving a customer order. “About two weeks back, it was a busy day, so instead of driving the record to them, I mailed it. It was right off 28th Street in Grand Rapids. That was 12 days ago. He’s still yet to receive that package. It’s now sitting in Pittsburgh. I don’t know why mail routing in Grand Rapids sent something to Pittsburgh only to ship it back to Grand Rapids again — that makes absolutely no sense. You and I would be out of business if we did that.”
Once the doors reopen to the public, Baker said he plans to create a safe shopping environment for his loyal customers — some of whom have been digging through the crates at Vertigo since it opened 20 years ago.
“We will be taking some precautionary measures, perhaps handing out gloves and using a lot of sanitizer,” Baker said. “We might have some traffic flow procedures, too. We’ll work on some directional things. Our aisles are fairly narrow, so there are bound to be some interactions, so maybe we will (limit) the amount of people in there at one time. We don’t know yet.”
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