Talking with Mike Catalano, Co-Owner of Recently Relaunched Record Store, Co-Op 87

07/27/2011 1:06 PM |

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Hearing of a record store going out of business isn’t particularly shocking news these days. It’s much stranger — downright bizarre, even — to hear of one expanding, as the case with Greenpoint audiophile haunt Co-Op 87. What started out two years ago as a way for Captured Tracks label head Mike Sniper, Mexican Summer/Kemado A&R man Keith Abrahamsson, and former Academy Records manager Mike Catalano to sell records released on local labels (theirs included), has re-opened as a major source of collector pieces, bootlegs and other rarities. In what they call a “grand curation,” they handpick vinyl spanning all genres and time periods to make your search for a 1969 Byrds bootleg way easier. We asked co-owner/manager Catalano a few questions about the relaunch, judging customers’ tastes, and his thoughts on Spotify.

What would you say is your top two or three criteria when deciding whether or not to stock something?

Well, the space is relatively cozy, so deciding what stock to carry is definitely an important process. Generally with used records the criteria would be broken into two categories. For expensive stuff, it would have to be of interest to the area &$8212 as in if we’re putting something out on the floor that’s $20 or more, it’d have to be a title from a genre that’s in line with a lot of our customers’ tastes: punk, synth, folk, jazz, psych, cool disco, etc. It doesn’t look good putting a male vocalist record or a solo piano record on the floor for $20, even if it’s a fair price because most folks that are likely to come here wouldn’t be looking for that type of thing. For cheap stuff, it’s simpler: certain “staples” or classic pop stuff that’s common always sells well for $5 and less. You know, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys in their common pressings etc. Condition is a huge factor for us too.

What made you decide to open the store in Greenpoint?

Well, it really makes sense where it is because the space was already owned by the labels in the building (Kemado and Mexican Summer). With the help of Mike Sniper (of Captured Tracks, who also operates his label from the building), they decided to get a shop going again, in a more traditional way.

What has been the biggest challenge in operating the store far?

Now that it’s open it’s all been quite pleasurable, really.

How do you guys determine pricing for so many collector pieces and rarities? Do customers ever try to bargain with you?

Well, it’s experience and exposure. Our pricing, besides online research of various sites, is based on “what do other stores often charge for this?” “how often do I see this?” and “how often do I sell this?” policies. It’s weird when you walk in a store and get the sense that the owners are steadfastly holding on to the records by charging too much, like they can’t bear the thought of someone taking a beat-up Byrds LP out of their store for less than $15. We avoid that here. We see a lot of records out there when we’re getting stuff for the shop, you know? It tends to calm that hoarder pricing mentality.

And of course people try to bargain. Wanna know the secret of getting a discount? Be nice and don’t expect one. Really, it’s niceness, civility and politeness that I reward.

What would you say is the most valuable item you have for sale?

I think it’s the Stone Roses box set, or this promo-only mono version of the Hesitations’ Where We’re At LP. Although for my taste, the dollar bin has some far better tunes…

What about the oldest?

Tough to say. Probably some earlier Jazz LP, post-78s being the norm, making them early 50s. Nothing too crazy really.

Where’s the farthest an item has come from?

We had some stuff shipped from California, a friend of Keith’s sold them to us through the mail.

Do you ever get people coming in looking to trade their vinyl and they have awful taste in music, and you do that thing where you act like you’re not judging them ’cause you don’t want to fall victim to a stereotypical record store owner, but deep down, you’re judging? This is a safe place, so you can be honest.

I judge people that think there’s such a thing as “acceptable” musical taste! I, thank goodness, have never had that problem: My allegiance lies with Napoleon XIV and Spike Jones & His City Slickers. When we can’t use records for the store, it’s never because I think someone’s taste is awful really; it’s genuinely because my experience dictates that I wouldn’t be able to sell the records in my store. Most of the stuff that I personally like never sells. But it’s still good, you know?

The stereotypical record store employee act disgusts me. It’s the employees who didn’t act rude in the record stores I grew up going to that are the ones who changed my life. I’ve never felt like I “fit in” to any particular scene, I’ve always thought people were silly when they mentioned “buzz,” and, for me, having a space where there is no “fitting in” and the “buzz“ is checked at the door is very important. I have so many things that I really like, that really interest me and they’re important to me; what I like matters. I know for a fact that other people are the same way, and I want to be hoisting their freak flag way up in the sky with them, not being snide because they‘re “unhip.”

Do you plan to use Spotify (if you haven’t already)?

I don’t want to go into full-on curmudgeon mode, but Spotify is basically major record labels (its original core group of owners being Sony, Warner, EMI, Universal) desperately (and quite tardily) trying to corner some kind of market online in hilarious combat with “illegal“ downloading. Their catch phrase is “a world of music,” which is very funny. What would downloading the stuff for free be then? “A galaxy of music?” “A universe perhaps? Because certainly there are WAY more songs to be downloaded, commercial-free, for FREE, when one just “steals” them.

It’s another pointless, money-burning ruse like Netflix, in which we as a society sell out our freedom for false
convenience by feeding money upward to our government through corporations and financial institutions. I’m quite aware that no one wants to hear that information, but it would be nice if some folks thought about that stuff a little bit before our economy here completely collapses. And of course, that’s just my opinion, I’m open to hearing anyone else’s!