Rocky Hill resident Jon Lambert in his store, Princeton Record Exchange
Hey Siri. Play music.
Those four simple words manifest the seismic shift in the music industry during the last 40 years. Still, the Princeton Record Exchange (PREX) moves 40,000 records, CDs, and DVDs each month.
Owner Jon Lambert, a Rocky Hill resident, tells fans on Twitter that: “While we sell more vinyl than CDs here at PREX, it’s pretty close, with roughly 50 percent LPs vs. 40 percent CDs. We love both of these.”
Established in 1980, Princeton Record Exchange is one of the top-ranked independent record stores in the US.
On the eve of the shop’s 40th anniversary, Lambert looked back over the years recently with a reporter who also happens to be a regular customer.
“There’s that feeling of loss of engagement,” Lambert says, noting that people now live in a time where many stare at screens and live in virtual worlds.
“Where do I go to be with people where I can interact, laugh, joke, learn things, and not just be by yourself in some sort of virtual community? he asked. “People need a place to go where they can be with other like-minded human beings.”
Lambert, who has been a constant presence in the store since December 1988, says: About ten newlywed couples have come into the store to have wedding photos taken and told Lambert “we met here, we went on our first date here, and we fell in love here.”
At least one actual marriage proposal was offered, and accepted, in the aisles after a “scavenger hunt series of notes were left all over the store.”
Musicians, including B-52s’ Fred Schneider, Julian Cope, Leon Redbone, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, and members of bands such as Stereolab, Saves the Day, and LCD Soundsystem, have shopped in the store. Actors Matt Dillon and Edward Herrmann also have been in the aisles.
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Most notably, Hun School graduate Ethan Hawke — who worked in construction for Rocky Hill contractor George White — also made headlines when he confessed to shoplifting records (The Doors’ debut release), but Lambert admits all is forgiven.
Hawke visited the store with his young daughter in recent years.
PREX is enmeshed in the town’s social fabric. From sponsoring dances and other performances with local arts institutions, it also hosts student musicians and local singers, bands, and other performers on a regular basis.
Fostering a sense of community is the 20-person staff, most of whom are artists or musicians. PREX alumni include guitarist Michael “Mickey” Melchiondo Jr., better known by his stage name Dean Ween of the alternative rock group Ween.
It’s common for Record Exchange staffers to know customers on a first-name basis, and to know their musical preferences.
Siri and Alexa also know the customers’ names and and favorite music too!
However, Lambert says, “people want to be with people and to have that human interaction. And I think a place like ours is a great place to do it.” ■