In Rochester, there are numerous record stores to go to, such as Record Archive and the House of Guitars. However, none of those bigger record stores come close in quality and excellence to Rochester’s smallest record store; Hi Fi Lounge.Located in the town of Brighton, next to Pontillo’s Pizza, Hi Fi Lounge differs from the bigger Rochester record stores. They place emphasis on their audio equipment and the value of their records, rather than pushing other products in their store, such as vintage t-shirts, movies, or custom alcohol – their focus is solely on the music.
If you’re a fan of the movie, “High Fidelity” (2000), a movie popular among record buffs, then the closest Rochester record store to Rob Gordon’s is Hi Fi Lounge.
Mark Kaidy, 57, owner and manager of Hi Fi Lounge, has been running the business since 1986. Being in the music retail field for a long time, Kaidy became an audio gear and record enthusiast in his teens, whose hobbies have always involved audio.
Hi Fi Lounge began in a simple way. Kaidy used to be a busboy and knew he had to do something with his life. So, he took a flyer and things ended up working out.
Hi Fi Lounge started as a CD Exchange on Mt. Hope Avenue, at a time when CDs dominated the market. There were no records or cassettes in the store, only CDs. The store received a lot of media coverage, since they were selling a new music format, that was considered evolutionary at the time.
Kaidy said, “When CDs came out, I could kind of see the writing on the wall. It’s really hard to believe in this day and age that people were really into CDs.”
However, within the recent decade, CDs have declined, due to another revolutionary way to listen to music, with streaming.
When the store moved out to Brighton, Kaidy started selling more vinyl than CDs, due to the vinyl revival. Just like how Kaidy depended on the quality of the CDs sold, he now took that approach towards the used LPs and audio gear.
Kaidy said, “When CDs were out, they weren’t going to be viable by themselves anymore to have a business, so the CDs keep shrinking. Here, there are a lot more records and more than half the business is the gear and fixing and selling it.”
What separates a small store like Hi Fi Lounge from other Rochester record stores is their pricing of unique albums, which may be an original or exotic pressing, a bootleg, and a picture disc or colored LP – which are sold at a fair price – playing in the concept of supply and demand among record and audio collectors.
Andrew Spencer, 19, shops occasionally at Hi Fi Lounge. As a vinyl and audio equipment enthusiast himself, he understands how important the quality is of his findings.
Spencer said, “I like their selection of turntables and stereo amplifiers, which are high quality items that they sell. They’re not going to sell you an average sub $100 entry-level turntable. You’re going to find a lot of vintage turntables and stereo equipment that are consumer great, but also higher quality.”
Among shoppers, Hi Fi Lounge is popular with their prices. Just because it’s the Beatles, they’re not selling a Beatles album for around $50. They run an honest business, where if there’s an original pressing of a high-quality record, such as the Cramps’ “Songs the Lord Taught Us” (1980), there’s going to be a reasonable price tag.
Spencer said, “If you buy a bootleg there it’s not going to be a massive amount of money. It’s going to be what a customer would pay for. For example, when an original pressing of the Beatles’ “Revolver” is sold at Hi Fi Lounge, they sell it for less than what other stores may sell it for which is an honest business move and it will gain some returning customers.”
Aside from LPs, another trait which makes Hi Fi Lounge unique is their focus on audio equipment, by supplying repair and set-up services. If you purchase any audio equipment there, including a new cartridge, Kaidy makes sure it matches your record player’s tone arm and offers installation. Most estimates are generally free, but some alarming repairs may require a moderate fee.
Since there aren’t many people who know how to work on turntables and given this is a small record store, this is appealing and rare.
Kaidy said, “A lot of people need their turntables to be worked on and a lot of them don’t realize it. Some younger people who get their parents’ old turntable, which isn’t a bad unit, but since it’s used, it needs service and this is something that differentiates my store from the others.”
Due to the little space, Hi Fi Lounge may not have a backroom lounge, where alcohol is served and local acts perform, but there is a small listening room in the back, filled with furniture and high tech audio equipment. It’s mainly for when customers want to hear a piece of equipment or album, they are interested in buying.
Record Store Day is usually the biggest day in sales for record stores. It’s the day when customers wait in line for exclusive and limited releases.
This past RSD, Hi Fi Lounge reached its best day in sales, according to Kaidy. The store carried releases, such as David Bowie’s “Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ‘78),” that sold out quickly at other record stores. However, Hi Fi Lounge didn’t carry maybe as many releases as the other stores, but they made sure they had enough copies of the requested ones.
On RSD, Kaidy was also able to put a sign outside his store, closer to the road, promoting the annual event. Generally, he is told by Brighton officials he cannot place a sign closer to the road, which has an impact in recognition and visibility for his business. Luckily, he is right next to a Pontillo’s Pizza.
Kaidy said, “Just from these signs, I have people coming in saying, ‘Oh I didn’t know there was a record store here and being next to Pontillo’s definitely causes some business.”
And since people are going to different record stores on RSD, Hi Fi Lounge was destined to attract a large crowd.
With an increase of sales on RSD, Kaidy said, “It’s not entirely from these signs, since I promote my store through social media, but if people are driving by going to the Bop Shop down the road, and they see Record Store Day and turntables signs out, they become interested.”
Even though Hi Fi Lounge receives excellent reviews from customers and has established a cult following in terms of quality, it has yet to be recognized by others. Being placed in the far back on Monroe Avenue, with no sign close to the road, is hard for potential customers to notice – it is an easy place to miss, even if you GPS it. However, once you find the store and step foot inside, you will always keep coming back.