COVID-19 has put a wrench — but only a temporary one — in moving Canandaigua Record Exchange to Mill Street

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Things were all falling into place for Jon Cooley. After selling records out of a case at the Ontario Mall Antiques in Farmington since last October, he was happy to see an affordable storefront space open up on Mill Street in downtown Canandaigua. He had some stock, and a distributor. Come May, the lifelong music fan would finally start up a brick-and-mortar, vinyl-centric used-records store, after careers in the restaurant and auto sales businesses.

And then? Along came the novel coronavirus, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's resulting "New York State on PAUSE" order to keep nonessential businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus. Not the optimal time to be in the middle of opening a small business.

"Everything just came together ... and then boom, everything changed," Cooley said. "It seemed to be perfect timing — my lease at the antique store was expiring at the end of April; it was going to be a seamless transition. Then the antique mall closed. So the crowdfunding campaign took on heavy lifting."

Still, Cooley is optimistic that Canandaigua Record Exchange will be successful in its 170 Mill St. location, accross from the Canandaigua Farmers Market, once it's able to open to customers. The lease is signed, and he'll have the key to start moving stock in on May 1. As for the capital to get it off the ground, with the revenue stream from his case at the antique mall halted, a crowdfunding campaign launched and was 64 percent of the way to its goal as of Wednesday, with 31 backers so far. (The campaign runs through Sunday.) The location has some 200 square feet of space, there's ample area parking and — especially on farmers market days — good visibility, he noted.

The crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo — which can be found at shorturl.at/hqCM5 — offers assorted perks in exchange for donations: gift certificates for various figures available at 20 percent off; an exclusive first-pressing T-shirt; and bigger packages of perks for higher-level donors: a dedicated section of the store to display favorite albums at one level, a new turntable at another level, discounted purchases through the entire decade at yet another level.

Once the store opens, after the state mandate is lifted, Canandaigua Record Exchange will offer primarily used records, with some new records as well, plus music-related merchandise (band T-shirts, books, and the like — possibly turntables). As a record exchange, Cooley will take in selected collections as well. And while there will be some compact discs, the focus will be on vinyl — which, as far as physical music formats go, is where the growth has been. Cooley's Indiegogo page notes that U.S. sales of new vinyl records rose in 2019 for the 14th straight year and that it's estimated that vinyl will outperform CDs this year. Streaming and digital downloads may be the preferred way people hear music these days — but plenty still want a physical format, and they've been rediscovering vinyl for years now. Brighton's The Bop Shop has always had vinyl as its main focus; other regional record stores like Rochester's Record Archive have healthy vinyl sections. It's not just niche stores: Vinyl LPs can be found in the likes of Barnes and Noble and Walmart.

The closing of Area Records & Music in Geneva in 2017 meant local audiophiles had to trek to Rochester, Syracuse or Ithaca for a dedicated shop, and Cooley figured this created a niche, one that would prove successful in Canandaigua. Last year, he figured it was time to go for it.

"When I was downsized last year — I've had two careers for my whole life, and both of then ended up in downsizing — I thought I always wanted to open a store — and so I'd better open up a store," he said.

His goal was to open in downtown Canandaigua, but Main Street was at capacity. Until a storefront could become available, Cooley decided to start selling at Ontario Mall Antiques and build up his capital. There was an 18-month wait list for a booth and a two-month wait list for a case, but he got the call within 45 days to set up a case, he said.

Cooley liked working out of the antique mall, he said: "Overall, it was a good experience — it showed what I was trying to do had a following." But it had its drawbacks, too, including hours limited to when the mall was open. It was always intended to be temporary, anyway, until a Canandaigua space could open. And the wait for a vacancy spoke to the vibrancy Cooley sees in Canandaigua's downtown, which made it attractive to him in the first place.

Opening any small business is a gamble, especially a niche business — and particularly with the anticipated economic fallout of the national shutdown. But Cooney has faith.

"It is something to be concerned about.  ... It will come back. It's above my pay grade to determine how far and how it works — but I'm telling myself, I have faith in the system to come back," he said.

Ethan Fogg, president of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce, said Canandaigua's downtown in particular — with a mix of businesses offering a wide variety of quality, reasonably priced and "travel-friendly" or portable products — is positioned well to be part of that comeback and bounce back from the coronavirus-caused slowdown. Especially with two major hotel projects well underway near Canandaigua Lake, in a time when, after the isolation period, people may be rethinking their travel options and going overseas less., Fogg noted Canandaigua was also fortunate with the timing, he observed: Had the pandemic hit a year ago, it would have been a big, possibly critical blow to both hotel projects.

Fogg noted that the chamber offers several resources and opportunities for businesses — some for members, some for general use, with networking as a major thrust — in general and particularly during the COVID-19 era. The chamber's website, for instance, at canandaiguachamber.com, lists a plethora of links to federal, state, regional and local resources for businesses dealing with this era's challenges: FAQs from the Small Business Administration about applying for relief, information from Excellus about health insurance changes, the U.S. Chamber's guide to the CARES Act, and tips for working at home, to name just a few.

As for the newest addition to downtown?

"I'm excited to have a vinyl store in town," Fogg said. "It's so classic!"

Giving back 

Eastman School of Music is closed due to the novel coronavirus, but a number of students — including several international students — remain in Rochester, either on or off-campus. JAVA's Coffee Shop — located on Gibbs Street right at the heart of the Eastman community and a favored student locale for caffiene conversation — is giving those students a hand Friday, offering box lunches for pickup April 17, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., for any students who've remained in Rochester.

“The UR community has been very good to me for over 20 years, so I thought it would be a nice way to give back to the students,” JAVA's owner Mike Calabrese said in a release provided by ESM.

This (virtual) café is open

Little Theatre is closed for the duration, but the live music the theatre's cafe is known for isn't stopping — it's just moved online for the "Virtual Little Cafe" Facebook livestream. A full slate of streams is planned for the immediate future. Most of the streams are linked from thelittle.org (unless otherwise noted), with many on the performers' Facebook pages.

• Katie Morey (whose projects include Katie and the Prestones, Pleistocene, Paul's Grandfather, and Ben Morey and the Eyes) will perform at 7 p.m. every Thursday in April: April 16, 23 and 30.

• Casey Costello will present Irish songs at 2 p.m. Friday, April 17 (a set originally planned for a St. Patrick's Day gig.

• Levi Gangi from The Lonely Ones will perform a set at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 18.

• The band Watkins & The Rapiers — performing songwriter-in-the-round style — will perform at 7 p.m. Monday, April 20 and 27, on the band's YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/WatkinsandtheRapiers/videos.

• Classicially trained violinist and fiddler Alyssa Rodriguez (a member of Sisters of Murphy and Gregory Street Vagabonds, performs music on the nyckelharpa — a Swedish keyed fiddle with 16 strings — at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 22.

• Pianist, singer and songwriter Hanna PK performs at 8 p.m. Friday, April 24.