Mark Kaidy runs what he calls “The World’s Smallest Music and Audio Store”
By John Addyman
Mark Kaidy has put himself in a spot where he helps two distinctly different groups of people enjoy themselves.
And in the process, he has built a business successful enough that the six days a week he works are satisfying and fulfilling and welcome. Because he’s doing exactly what he wants to do.
Kaidy, 62, owns the Hi-Fi Lounge on Monroe Avenue in Brighton.
If you’ve driven by his place a hundred times and have never noticed it, you’ve got company.
He labeled his store, “The World’s Smallest Music and Audio Store.” Kaidy considers himself an honest man.
“I’m not so sure that was a good idea,” he admitted.
The store is narrow and deep, with 1,500 square feet of space filled with CDs, records, a small audio shop, a wall of audio equipment and a comfy listening room for friends and customers.
“I thought I would own the fact about how small we are. I’ve always thought the honest approach is the best approach,” he said. “In [sales and marketing] school, they tell you that’s not a good idea.”
He’s sitting behind a high counter, perched on a stool like the ones he leaves next to the racks of records for customers doing their loving searches. His glasses are tethered to him by a black cord. His hair is wispy and working in a lot of directions.
And he doesn’t look quite like the typical small record shop owner. Neither does his neat, organized and very functional place of business.
Kaidy is happy doing business with two groups of customers — the boomers who have rediscovered, and missed vinyl records and would like their stereo equipment that’s been dormant for years to work properly. So, they bring it to the Hi-Fi Lounge and Kaidy’s refurbishment talents.
And the second group — kids in their 20s who want to get started on the right path to enjoying music on vinyl records.
He will guide them to spending a reasonable amount of money, about $300 give or take, to invest in an audio system that will function properly and produce great sound long past the new stuff available in big-box stores for the same dollars.
In his approach to business, he’s taking care of those older customers who know something about stereo systems who want to get back into what they’ve missed, with their original equipment, if possible. And, he’s nurturing those new to vinyl who, if treated properly, will continue and maintain the hobby well into the future, getting more sophisticated as they go, appreciative of the good start Kaidy gives them.
CDs were the thing
He started in the music business in 1986 with his “CD Exchange” shop on Mount Hope Avenue. He had saved up $7,000 from his busboy days, got a loan from his dad, and took a flyer on being an industry magnate.
“I saw the opportunity,” he said. “CDs were kind of a novelty at that time. Everybody was smitten with them. We stayed in the city for about nine years. I’ve had the same employee since 1987 — Robert Helm. It’s hard to get people in these kinds of businesses that you can trust. I found Robert right away as someone I could trust. I made sure to keep him with me the whole time.”
That “whole time” proceeded to a second store in the Stereo Shop Building across from the Marketplace Mall in the mid-1990s. Then the jump to Monroe Avenue in Brighton in 2015.
“When we started, CDs were the thing,” Kaidy said. “People were practically putting their records to the curb at that point. I outgrew our first store and moved out to Henrietta and the Stereo Shop, which was a much bigger place. Still, we sold CDs only until the mid-2000s and then I could see this little record thing bubbling up again. For the first time ever, in the mid-2000s, I started carrying records. Now, the inverse has happened from when I opened. Now people are putting their CDs to the curb and everybody wants records again.”
Inside the Stereo Review building, Kaidy sold CDs. The audio equipment was sold by the bigger store. “We promised not to compete with one another,” he explained.
Then the Hi-Fi Lounge was born in 2015.
“CDs were just not hitting anymore, so calling your business the ‘CD Exchange’ was like calling it the ‘buggy whip exchange,’” Kaidy said.
“I wanted to get into the audio equipment as well. I’d had a serious hobby with audio equipment, fixing it as well, so I decided to make that a part of the business,” Kaidy added, noting that the new store and its new customer offerings had no trouble getting off on the right foot.
“Things went pretty easily because of this renaissance in vinyl records. There were a lot of people pulling their turntables out of mothballs. A lot of people had put those turntables away in the 1990s. Now they wanted them out again. They wanted to use them again, they missed them, or their kids wanted to use them. Repairing turntables became a big part of this business pretty quickly.”
Hi-Fi Lounge sells new and used CDs and LPs. Folks who put their records in a closet and their stereo equipment in the attic in the 1990s walk in to find familiar LP titles from their youth — available for more dollars than they originally cost. New records, which are shipped in regularly, are also much more expensive than they were in the 1990s.
Thus the need for a good reliable stereo system that will get all the juice out of the vinyl you have.
“We buy and sell both new and used stereo equipment,” Kaidy said. “And we’re
trying very hard to buy LP collections (and turning down a lot of CD collections). One of my favorite parts about this business is getting the 20-year-olds started because they have no background. They grew up with a computer mouse in their hands. They don’t know the basics about turntables and the fact that a stylus tracks at two grams — how to take care of that and how to deal with that physical relationship of a stylus and a record. I try and get them started. There are a lot of turntables you can buy in big-box stores now, inexpensively, and they’re junk, really bad for the records, and records are pricey these days. I try and get a kid started the right way. I sell them the good used, refurbished quality stuff and get them going so they’ll enjoy the hobby going forward.”
Then there are the folks who show up at the store in cargo shorts and a T-shirt, with white or graying hair.
“Our older group of customers are the people who bought a lot of CDs but they’ve noticed that vinyl has come back. They missed the experience of records. With everything now on the computer and the phones, records are one thing that’s lasted that gets you away from all that. You play a record and you have to go through the whole process of cleaning the record, putting it on; it kind of gets you more focused on the music. It becomes an activity. The music is not just wallpaper, not just in the background. It’s sort of a different experience altogether, listening to music on a record. So different from digital,” he said.
He also noted that it’s a lot easier to read the back of a record jacket than the print on a CD booklet.
Kaidy sees that a lot of older people have held onto their turntables and some also held onto their record collections.
“Oftentimes, the majority of the time, turntables need work and there’s a good likelihood that they let part of the system go, like the speakers, and they need new parts to get incorporated with the system,” he said. “I do help with that. The primary thing is getting the turntables up to speed. We recondition a lot of vintage units here. The stuff that was higher-end back in the ‘70s, there’s a very robust market for that right now.”
He enjoys being an audiophile sensei for newcomers to records. Those are his younger customers, who can benefit from his expertise.
“Many times I sell them a whole system and they don’t have a lot of money, typically. What I do is I save up the stuff that’s not terribly valuable but functions far better than something they’re going to pay the same amount for at the big-box store. I make sure they’re working up to spec. For roughly what they would pay for something that would be broken by year’s end, I can sell them vintage stuff that will keep working and sounds much better,” he explained.
For boomers who have known their way around audio equipment, he stocks new turntables, receivers and speakers that are a step up in quality and price. Coming back to vinyl can be satisfying in many ways.
It’s an active job situation for Kaidy. He spends his day evaluating and testing and negotiating and advising.
“I’m working as many hours as I ever have — 60 hours a week,” he said.
His wife, Jeanne, makes the Hi-Fi Lounge even homier on special occasions like Record Store Day by populating the listening room with home-baked goodies. Kaidy posts photos of those goodies on the store’s Facebook page. There’s no denying that those things are a draw.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one in four startup businesses last 15 years.
Kaidy and his business have been going for 36 years.
“I feel this is where I should be,” he said.