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Business of the Month: Record Runner, 5 Jones Street

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Our July Business of the Month is your ideal destination for either of two worthy goals: finding a music collectible that evokes the fleeting intoxication of the time when your aesthetic sense first emerged and, in youthful arrogance, defined you as a person; or disposing of an old musical memento and, with it, the reminder of a time when you confused anger with virtue and youth with beauty. Record Runner (5 Jones Street) has been selling and buying records and collectible music items for over forty years. It is one of the last survivors of the dozens of record stores that once dotted the neighborhood, and remains an incomparable place to hunt for rare musical finds.

The story of Record Runner begins, as many good stories do, with a boy collecting records. Native Villager John Pita was really into soul music during the 70s (a great decade for that genre) and, after working at the local record store The Golden Disc during high school, found himself feeling stuck at a job at ABC Records. His hopes of doing promotions were going nowhere, when a friend and fellow record collector suggested that they open their own record store. So they did in 1979, at 5 Cornelia Street. 

At first, Record Runner was your typical small neighborhood record store, selling the usual variety of classic rock albums. Then one day, in 1981, a friend over at Capitol Records swung by with three members of the up-and-coming band Duran Duran. They had come to the city to do press and were being taken around town. To this day, John does not know how word of this unexpected visit spread. But the next day, a pack of high school girls descended upon the store, taking the place of the usual clientele, which typically consisted of a couple of guys, one shopping for the Stones and the other shoplifting. At the time, many of John’s competitors found Duran Duran too uncool to care about. But John liked the surprising turn of events at his store and decided to turn Record Runner into Duran Duran central, carrying special releases, t-shirts, magazines, books, and everything he could get a hold on. This, with a strong emphasis on New Wave bands and their UK post-punk contemporaries, became the blueprint for the business. And it is the blueprint that John has followed to this day.

Walking into Record Runner is a lot like walking into 1983. Upon entering, you’re hit with the unmistakable smell of vinyl. Well over half of those vinyl shelves, which take up most of the store, are devoted to bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division, and still, Duran Duran.

This, however, is no simple case of being frozen in time as the world passes you by. The road that led Record Runner here had its share of twists and turns. Still, a specialized business approach has remained a constant throughout, even if this approach has often depended more on serendipity than on carefully laid out strategy. A few incidents illustrate how things played out:

  • One day, John noticed a couple of Spaniards buying dozens of records and struck up a conversation with them. Months later, that exchange was followed by a series of orders from these new Spanish customers and then by an invitation for John to visit and check out the record scene in Madrid. That initial visit was fruitful and led to others. This gradually allowed John to establish relationships throughout Europe and gave him access to merchandise only available at local foreign markets.
  • In 1985, Springsteen fans from all over the world were in town to hear the Boss play Giants Stadium. Many swung by Record Runner in the days leading up to the event, including a few from Japan. One of John’s employees encouraged him to talk to them so as to make a Japanese contact. So John did and invited them to join him and the staff for drinks after the show. By the end of the night, he had managed to obtain at least one Japanese phone number; and he subsequently availed himself of that number (to the great surprise of its owner) when he heard about a new release only available in Japan. He was hoping that his new acquaintance would ship him twenty-five copies. She agreed and executed her charge with such alacrity that John received the shipment within two days (as opposed to the three four to weeks that he had come to expect from his European contacts). Not long after, John started going to Japan regularly, hunting for collectibles. (Along the way, the Springsteen fan who volunteered her phone number and her assistance became his wife).

As the years went on, Record Runner managed to establish an international network of dealers in music collectibles. These connections would serve the store well as it confronted the existential crises posed by the rapid transformation of music retail. At first, the internet proved a boon to business, complementing the reach of the store’s print ads. But what the internet giveth, it taketh away. The emergence of giant e-retailers, digital music, and music streaming devastated record stores small and big. (Ironically, the large ones, which had themselves been pushing small ones out of business, were the ones to essentially disappear). In navigating these treacherous waters, Record Runner has had a few things going for it. The first was its location.

Greenwich Village has long been synonymous with music; and Record Runner is located at one of its musical epicenters — a block frequented by musicians as varied as Mick Taylor and Brian Setzer (who used to hang out at the West 4th Street Saloon) and bass legend Jaco Pastorius (who lived right across the street), and a street famously depicted in the iconic cover of Freewheelin’ Dylan.

Just about every day, tourists show up, looking for the site of the famous shot. John chats many of them up, pointing out how to find the correct perspective.

Vinyl copies of Freewheelin’ Dylan sell like hotcakes.

On top of that, the store is a block away from the Cornelia Street apartment that once served as Taylor Swift’s home and as inspiration for one of her hit songs.

Vinyl copies of that album also sell like hotcakes. To further capitalize on the musical legacy of the neighborhood, John is always on the market for memorabilia and collectibles related to artists and events that contributed to the Village’s musical stature. (If you own such items and might be interested in selling them, John’s on the hunt, and he’s after you).

The other great asset of Record Runner is the ongoing patronage of fan groups, which have displayed almost as much loyalty to the store as to their musical idols. To this day, hardcore Duran Duran fans shop here; and if there is a show, they do so in considerable numbers. John keeps full sections devoted to artists, like Debbie Gibson, who no one else stocks so comprehensively. As a result, he gets the business of Debbie Gibson fans. The store also occasionally receives advance notice from fanclub members about special releases that are coming out. Once, by acting on one such tip, John sold several hundred copies of a special David Cassidy release. Lastly, longtime customers sometimes decide to part with collections that they have assembled over the years, and they bring them to John, from whom they’ve often purchased large portions of it. A few years ago, a customer sold him a sizable collection of U2 materials, just one item of which — U2’s first record, U2 3 — was then sold at the store for $3,800.

Record Runner’s niche, combined with fortuitous developments — such as the vinyl revival and the launching of Record Store Day, which once a year gives independent stores exclusive access to hundreds of limited releases — has allowed the store to navigate a very challenging retail environment. COVID only compounded the challenges. While John could still operate via mail, shipping slowed down to a crawl during the pandemic and tourism stopped altogether. If the store has survived and begun to recover, it has been thanks to John’s unflagging passion for music collectibles. While he himself stopped collecting decades ago (because wanting to keep everything is bad for business), he still derives just as much pleasure from helping customers find what they’re looking for. 

For the decades devoted to helping us navigate our musical journey and hunt for musical treasures along the way, we are happy to name Record Runner our July 2023 Business of the Month.

What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc

Here is a map of all our Businesses of the Month:

One response to “Business of the Month: Record Runner, 5 Jones Street

  1. I first ordered from them in 1984 (they advertised in Star Hits magazine)– it was the UK 12 inch single of Culture Club’s “The Medal Song” and have been a fan ever since! Plus, it’s been located at that same address for decades and is the only address I know by heart… except for my Mom’s…

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