With its newly opened second location, the veteran Queen West vinyl vendor is trying to cultivate a more consistent clientele in the Annex.
Kops Records, one of Toronto’s longest-running record shops, has just opened a second location on the western edge of the Annex (at 592 Bloor St. W.) after nearly 20 years of dealing vinyl on Queen West. Owner Nick Koppel describes the new shop as more focussed on roots music than its sister shop. “It’s the music of rockabilly, of R&B, of the sounds that influenced the music of today.”
How he got started: “The shop started 35 years ago,” says Koppel, “with my dad [Martin Koppel] bringing in soul 45s from the U.K. When he was buying soul records, he was buying pop records at the same time and found himself with this entire mound of 45s—if you’ve got that many records, you should open up a shop. So he did in the St Clair area, and over the years migrated around and then we found ourselves on Queen Street by University. That was around 1995 or ’96, during the height of the CD boom.”
Second life: The second shop was the direct result of an inventory overflow. “We had a lot of records,” says Koppel. “We have a warehouse in Markham and we were bulging. Opening up a new shop was something that we had planned for probably the better part of three or four years. We tried to set up one thing, which fell through, and the same with something else, and it would just not work.”
Location, location, location: Despite Koppel’s initial search on the Danforth—“I’ve got a soft spot for the east end; I think it gets neglected” – he couldn’t be happier with Kops’ second home in the Annex.
“This is an absolutely perfect choice,” says Koppel, “because it is a neighbourhood. It allows us to really sink roots, in a way that you can’t do on Queen Street, which, for all we know, can get bulldozed down tomorrow morning [by] that encroachment of high rises.”
Stocking up: The new location is still a work-in-progress—a sign is forthcoming and even the stock is set to change. “When you open up a shop, you’ve got to flesh it out so it doesn’t look empty,” he says. “So, there are a lot of records that are just filler. Two months from now, I won’t have every Melanie album.”
Many of those extraneous records will be replaced with some of the harder-to-find items from the Kops warehouse that are still in the process of being priced and merchandised. “I really like Melanie, don’t get me wrong,” Koppel continues, “but, I can’t have this boxed up—it’s Jerry Lee Lewis’ first album on Sun! This is the stuff I want to make sure I have. That’s more important to me than the third, poorly received, Daft Punk album.”
Customer service: The new neighbourhood offers a chance to develop relationships with residents who live nearby. “Queen Street is a commercial strip,” says Koppel, “and you don’t know what’s going to blow in. People are coming from all parts of the city and out of town. You just don’t know. Here, it’s people coming by who are saying, ‘I’m going to call this place home for a bit.’”
These relationships influence the shop’s buying policy. “You don’t know where you are until you’re there and start meeting people,” says Koppel. “Now that we’ve started talking to the customers, we have a real solid direction to push and migrate. What people want are original copies of records.”
Koppel also hopes to guide his customers towards records they might otherwise have been unaware of. “We’re engaging,” he says. “What somebody comes in with—their pathway—was prescribed. But we’re coming at music from a very different, a more tangible, experiential perspective. We’re finding piles of records from people who collected them and were experts in what was dear to their hearts. Then you listen to these collections and you’re hearing these things that a lot of people aren’t privy to. Time and time again, I find records that aren’t on iTunes and are not on YouTube—you can’t find them.”
Howdy, neighbour!: Koppel’s focus on rare and original pressings serves to create a distinct identity from nearby record-store behemoth Sonic Boom, who offer a wide range of new releases. “I’m selling those new releases on Queen Street in a different neighbourhood, so there’s no real conflict,” he says. “Here, I have no interest in Daft Punk. Maybe I’ll have a representative copy, which is fine, but really, it’s about Jerry Lee Lewis, it’s about Hawkwind, it’s about Queen on a U.K. pressing. It’s these kind of authentic elements that I want.”
Changing demographics: Koppel has seen the average age of customers skew younger every year. “I’m pretty sure there’s a new market emerging,” he says, “a 15-year-old demographic. They’ve got the pocket money; you can get a $50 turntable that’s new and has a bit of a warrantee. Great! Finally, it’s at the domestic price point where kids can buy record players and it won’t cost them more than two weeks’ allowance money. And then they can start saving up for some cool beater records.”
Play de records: The vintage turntables on display at the shop are not simply for decoration, but represent an intense passion for Koppel, one he’d like to pass on to his customers. “My dad and I are part of the Antique Phonograph Society and that is an entirely separate element of the shop,” he says. “We’re working with an academic friend of mine on an exhibit. I want to push that. I come from an academic background—the integrity of history is really important to me.”
And there are many that have yet to make their way into the shop. “I have at the warehouse representative examples from every major change in medium,” says Koppel. “Every instance of cylinder available to the North American public, the transition from cylinder to flat disc, variations of sizes of holes and diameters. Things are standardized now—most times you can find a needle for your turntable—but in the 1910s and the ;20s it was all over the place.”
Of particular Toronto-centric interest is the Sni-Dor turntable, perched above the shelf of 45s. “Before Sam Sniderman formed Sam the Record Man, his family manufactured turntables,” says Koppel. “His background was from a family furniture shop and he started selling records from the back of it.”