Published Sep 03, 2020Throughout the pandemic, record stores across Canada have understandably turned to the internet to keep business flowing, transforming their brick-and-mortar stores into Discogs pages during the long lulls without foot traffic.
The Greater Toronto Area's Kops Records, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. Not only did the store recently move two of its three locations into new, bigger spaces, Kops is focused on keeping its stock of vintage records off the internet and within the Toronto and Oshawa region.
"It's kind of our way of rewarding our local customers for their support," owner Martin Koppel tells Exclaim! "It was the GTA that kept us going through the early to late 2000s, when records were at their low point. Let's give them first crack at the most exciting stuff before the international market gets to see it."
This isn't to say that Kops doesn't ever sell records on the internet; the store has a Discogs page, full of new records and reissues. You may notice, however, that their local rarities and vintage records largely aren't available online, since the owners are keen to keep those within the GTA. This decision was inspired by a disappointing visit to the UK, where they found record shelves completely devoid of regional classics.
"In Manchester, the birthplace of Oasis, the Smiths and Ed Sheeran, we couldn't find a single original by any of these artists in the local record shops," Koppel remembers. "No promos, no posters, no pictures, nothing, and yet it was where they came from. We asked where the rarer stuff is and they said anything over £20 was online-only." He adds that this is "like how we found New York was cleaned out of a lot of its Blue Note originals."
Applying this same logic to the GTA: "It puts locals off if they know that when a $200 Rush radio promo comes in, it'll immediately get sold online to the highest bidder. So, we let Oshawa and Toronto have the chance to buy it first before the rest of the world even knows it exists, because, surely in a metropolitan area of over six million people, there will be someone who likes Rush."
This community-minded approach is more important now than ever — and Kops is all about supporting local. Oshawa's own Dizzy did a livestream from the store's upstairs room in August, and soul sensation Daniel Caesar is a longtime patron of the store; Caesar called Kops a "special place" during a 2017 interview with Nardwuar, in which he reminisced about stopping by the shop after appointments at his nearby barber. Koppel cites these as examples of the way Kops is entrenched in the community, and the store intends to resume small local shows at its Oshawa in-store performance space as soon as it's safe.
The store's small-scale, brick-and-mortar approach is unique — particularly during a pandemic that has had a devastating impact on so many businesses. It seems to be working, however, as shoppers are repaying Kops's local loyalty in kind. "Sales have been steadily increasing, and even though there are basically zero tourists, we're pretty much back to pre-COVID sales levels and some days even above them," Koppel says.
"To us, it's really shown how tight-knit the community here is."