Community partner spotlight: Princeton Record Exchange

To extend our community outreach, the library partners with the many municipal, non-profit, and business organizations that make Princeton such an extraordinary town. This month, we spoke with Jon Lambert, owner of Princeton Record Exchange (PREX), and Janie Hermann, the library’s program manager.

Janie: Princeton is fortunate to have local business owners such as Jon Lambert who are committed to the community and to supporting and working with local non-profit organizations. The library is grateful for the times that PREX has generously provided gift cards for summer reading prizes or to helped us get the word out about the musicians who perform regularly at the library. We have also had some unique collaborations over the years, with my favorite being Woodstock 50: A Look Back that included a show at the Pettoranello Gardens amphitheater featuring local bands and also setting up an old fashioned listening station on our first floor, complete with turntable and a weekly rotation of records curated by the staff. Working with Jon and his staff at the Princeton Record Exchange is always a joy and we look forward to bringing more music together in the future.

Jon Lambert:

How long has Princeton Record Exchange been in Princeton, and how long has PREX been a part of your life?
We have been in business for 40 years. In 1980, the founder, Barry, opened our first shop in a little space at 20 Nassau St. Five years later, we moved to our present, much larger, location at 20 S. Tulane St. I was living in town when PREX first opened and distinctly remember the cramped and uncomfortable, but vibrant and exciting atmosphere. “No New York” a compilation of “No Wave” bands produced by Brian Eno was the first of many records I bought there (and not a terrible investment as it sells for around $30 now!). I came on board in 1988 (32 years ago!) as a clerk when one of my friends who worked here left for Chicago to be a rock star. Because of my retail experience, I quickly joined the management team, rose to be the general manager in charge of day-to-day operations, and then purchased the business around five years ago when the founder wished to retire.

What is your primary area of focus?
We buy and sell music and movies: LPs, 7” singles, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and more. About 25% of our stock is new, purchased from distributors, but we are really known for our huge selection of used product that we buy from our customers. We are a nationally recognized record store and folks visit us from around the state, country and world to shop our ever-changing selection. We carry everything from thousands of records and CDs at a dollar apiece, to obscure rarities with fair but eye-popping prices.

Why do you like partnering with the library?
Over the years, we have worked with Princeton Public Library on more music-related projects than I can count. Their commitment to the arts in Princeton is unwavering and we appreciate their embrace of partnerships with local arts-oriented organizations like us. The staff that I have worked with are, without exception, creative, talented, and enthusiastic about bringing quality programs to the community. One of our favorite events ever is when we, PPL and PREX, brought in the alternative band They Might Be Giants for a free concert in 2012 to celebrate Record Store Day. They had offered to play for us, but we were stymied by many logistical issues and were getting ready to pull the plug. The folks at PPL jumped in (many of them being big fans), secured Hinds Plaza as the venue, and provided the stage, security, and cleanup. It ended up being a tremendous success with an estimated crowd of 1,300 fans showing up on a beautiful April evening. We’ll remember that joint effort forever.

With whom do you work most in the community?
Over the years, PPL has been our top collaborator, but we also have excellent long-term relationships with McCarter Theatre, and the Arts Council of Princeton. We enjoy working with indie retailer Labyrinth Books, and some of our favorite food/drinks places, Small World Coffee, Olives, and the bent spoon among others. There is a real sense of camaraderie in this town, and we love being part of that.

What is something that you do that people might not know about?
We regularly work with students of all ages: grade school, high school, and college. We give tours of the store and lecture on its operations. We help study groups with their various projects, retail infrastructure, technological solutions, music-retail history, etc., and give interviews to aspiring reporters. We even recently gave a seminar to a Princeton University class on the economics of record stores (spoiler: it is rough!). It is a real pleasure to work with these students and we hope to continue this as soon as it is safe to do so.

Is there any project or event that you are particularly excited about at the moment?
Well, no. In these times of Covid, we are simply trying to get through to the other side as safely as possible. We are happy just to have our doors open and are grateful for our loyal customers who are keeping us going. Let’s hope that by the summertime we can get some fun stuff happening!

Written in partnership with Janie Hermann, program manager, Princeton Public Library

photo credit: Tom Willimer

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