Selling art in the age of the internet

Local business owners discuss how they’ve adapted

Local arts businesses stay open with a personal touch.

In the era of the internet, the typical local arts store is tasked with providing their customers with more than just an interesting inventory if they want to succeed. 

Currently, there are a handful of bookstores, art galleries and a record store or two in downtown Kingston that range in variety and cater to a correspondingly wide range of tastes. 

Still, they’ve all been similarly put in a uniquely difficult situation, as merchandise can now be easily purchased online. In this day and age, arts stores are faced with very different challenges than other local businesses. In order to avoid failure, they must offer more than their stock to shoppers.

For example, Brian’s Record Option is a Kingston record store that sells music, memorabilia and books. Owner Brian Lipsin spoke with The Journal about his 38 years in business. 

Lipsin’s store has been at the same location on Princess St. since 1983 and has managed to weather all the different storms the music industry has thrown at him over the years. 

“The scene has changed, it was all records and cassettes which got taken over by CDs, and now records are taking over CDs again,” he said. 

Lipsin explained his inventory is a mixture of whatever people bring in for him to buy as well as the records he orders from distributors. 

His success stems from this idea of keeping the customer experience a priority. According to him, it’s what brings people into the store rather than ordering a book or record online. 

The store owner works to make sure he’s available to his customers in a way that doesn’t exist in box stores or on the internet. 

“I like to think I’m friendly, I’m sort of knowledgeable and I have a pretty large stock,” Lipsin laughed.  

However, there are still extensive difficulties associated with running an arts business in Kingston. For one, as Lipsin pointed out, many owners make the mistake of solely targeting Queen’s students. While this may be fruitful during the school term, for a business like his that makes its money by in-store sales, year round foot traffic is make or break. 

He also mentioned the recent construction on Princess has hurt his sales, as the stretch of street in 

front of his store has been closed off.

To overcome these barriers, Lipsin’s approach is one that values the interactions he has with each customer 

and his business has done well as a result. 

Berry and Peterson Booksellers have taken the same approach as Lipsin, and carved out a personal niche that’s often overlooked online or in larger stores. 

Richard Peterson co-founded the only used bookstore in the downtown core in 1976 and its longevity is due to a combination of things. 

As Peterson put it, “after 42 years, you get a feel for what people want.” 

This understanding has led to him stocking the shelves with classics instead of mass-market fiction and more contemporary work. 

“There’s so many people selling [these works] and we wanted to specialize — plus my heart’s always been with good quality literature,” Peterson said. The store’s continued success can be attributed to the owner keeping his ear to the ground and finding out what he can provide that other stores don’t. 

What’s more, much of his stock would be difficult to find without the expertise of someone like Peterson. The store is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada and this has put him in the realm of book dealers and collectors behind the used book market. 

Berry and Peterson, like Brian’s Record Option, relies on foot traffic and word of mouth to stay afloat rather than sales on an online platform. Although becoming more atypical, this formula has the potential for success. 

These local arts businesses survive on personal touches adapted for the internet age, selling their stores as experiences that Amazon can’t provide. 

“You adapt, because if you don’t adapt you go,” Lipsin said.

 

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