The Princeton Record Exchange

Priscilla E. Hayes

College taught Barry Weisfeld a couple of things not all students learn. He--and other college students--love buying records. And Weisfeld just couldn't bear the idea of putting on a tie.

At Weisfeld's business on Tulane Street, the Princeton Record Exchange, the college grad has found a way to put these two things together every day. At the store, which carries new and used CDs, tapes and LPs, college students and hard core collectors alike can pore over the thousands of different titles. The selection goes from classical to rock, jazz to country, opera to reggae, soundtracks to alternative and everything in between--just to give a partial list. Sticker codes alert the customer as to whether any particular item is new or used.

Weisfeld keeps the used selection at the store big by constantly buying collections, or even individual records, but only those in excellent condition. "I'm personally obsessed when it comes to buying records," Weisfeld says, a trait which has led his store to be nationally renowned among collectors.

Even before he opened the Record Exchange, Weisfeld had started buying and selling records. After finishing college in 1975, he took his van on the road, concentrating on flea markets at first. He soon switched to college campuses. "They're open more hours than flea markets are," Weisfeld explained.

Five years later, Weisfeld's inventory was getting too big to comfortably fit in his van. It was time to settle his record business in one place. He knew that there were many places with college campuses up and down the Eastern Seaboard, where he could settle down. In 1980, he started the Princeton Record Exchange at 20 Nassau St.

He now laughs at one of his reasons for choosing Princeton for his permanent location. "The oil embargo was going on and gas prices were real high and there were, like, long lines to get gas, and I theorized that if it became a real crisis, people in the Princeton community could still walk to the store," Weisfeld recalled.

After starting on Nassau Street, Weisfeld moved to Tulane Street five years later for more space. Still, he has to use every inch in the store--records are under the main display tables, in boxes on the floor, as well as on shelves at eye level, with the spines to the customer. The only items not on display are those still being sorted and priced after purchase.

Weisfeld estimates only 20 percent of his customers are from the immediate community. "A lot of people come from a long way because of our unique selection," Weisfeld said. "As far as real collectors, most real collectors are male. If you take all the people that collect coins, stamps, records and baseball cards and put them in one room--the real collectors: 99 percent of them are going to be male. With the casual buyers, it's much more of a split."

Recently, some of his employees found themselves unable to answer all the questions of a man who called. Weisfeld got on the telephone. The caller told Weisfeld he had a collection of more than 15,000 records, and that he had recently lost his job. He wanted to buy more records, but didn't drive. Weisfeld suggested the man have his wife, who does drive, bring him down. The man said he would have to hide the fact that he was purchasing more records due to their financial situation. Weisfeld then suggested he could sell some of his present collection to finance new purchases. "And he said, 'Well, I'd have to be out on the street, and not have a thing to eat to consider selling a record,'" Weisfeld said.

The store has bought several collections of more than 20,000 records. In a collection of that size--or in any collection of much over 100 records--Weisfeld doesn't try to look at every record in advance. "We want to offer as much money as possible; number one they might seek out other bids. And number two, the more we can pay somebody, the more people are going to like spread the word, 'Hey these guys are really fair.' In other words, we're like an insurance person. We work on referrals."

After buying a collection, Weisfeld and his employees go through the labor-intensive process of checking each item for condition. Condition, the demand for a particular title, plus how many copies the store itself has in stock at any moment and other similar factors, determine the price that the store puts on any given record. If the item does not sell within a couple of months, it is marked down.

What happens if the Princeton Record Exchange discovers the collection is more valuable than they thought when they bought it? "There's been a number of times when we buy collections and after we go through them in detail, if we find the collection's worth any more, we'll send the seller an addition, you know, like a balance," Weisfeld said. "We've done that dozens of times."

Asked about the value of an LP entitled "Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space" and a follow-up called "Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy," both made at the height of popularity of the first Star Trek series, Weisfeld noted that contrary to what people might expect, the second album--the sequel--might be worth more. "The sequel probably didn't sell as well as the original, so if there's demand for it, it would be harder to find, and I'd be more interested in it," Weisfeld said.

Over the years, reflecting the changing music market, Weisfeld has given more space to compact discs, and reduced the amount for LPs. Still, the variety of titles is greatest in vinyl, numbering more than 100,000. Weisfeld compares that to the usual 1,000 titles or so stocked by an average chain store, and indicates that the competition doesn't bother him--greatly--since his store has a national reputation among hard-core collectors. "There's a lot of people who will buy music before they will eat," Weisfeld said. "We have our niche."

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