A little over seven months after a devastating flood hit Brian’s Record Option, the iconic Kingston record store re-opened today at its original location at 381 Princess Street.
Brian’s, along with neighbouring businesses Tommy’s and The Pita Grill, were victims of a faulty cap on a water service line that had been installed during construction on Princess Street last summer. Water rose from the basement of Brian’s and poured out on the street, taking some of the inventory with it and ruining 1000s of other inventory items, at the same time flowing through the walls to the restaurants on either side. The Pita Grill quietly stayed closed permanently, and Tommy’s re-opened in February. But Brian’s Record Option, owned and operated by Brian Lipsin since 1980 and famous for its chaotic clutter and towering piles of records, CDs, and books covering nearly every square inch, was a bigger challenge. Helping Brian along was a successful GoFundMe campaign and two fundraising concerts. Now, with renovations complete enough to open to the public, Brian’s Record Option is back open today.
I arrived a few minutes after 10 am. A musician was in the corner putting away his guitar while another was setting up to perform acoustically.
“I just might keep having the music in here, it’s working out really nicely,” says Brian. “And now I have the room.”
Brian’s inventory is still daunting by the standard of most stores. Many of newly-built racks are taller than most people. There several different sections of CDs, probably numbering well into the 1000s, all over the store. About 10 feet up on a high shelf covering probably 20 or 30 linear feet is used turntables and other electronics. There are fewer posters than before, but they’re better kept and easier to sort through. There is now a bit of room to pass other customers, especially in the front of the store. And today, there are a lot of customers.
“It’s enough that I can still talk to people,” he says. “I was worried about a huge line out the door, and I don’t know how I’d handle that.”
I stood near the cash for probably 20 minutes waiting for a lull in paying customers to have a quick chat with Brian. During that time, he apologized to one of his regulars for not having enough time to chat (“I hope you can come back soon, I’d love to catch up”), he sells a vinyl copy of Otis Redding Live in Europe to another regular (“Oh, didn’t you already pick up this one?” “No, I didn’t get around to it until today.”), and he questions a relatively young customer about how she heard of the artist whose record she is buying, late 70s Canadian band Toronto (“I heard them on K-Rock” “Oh neat! Well this one is their best.”)
The countertop still doubles as a CD display. The basement is now slightly more open to the public, though Brian prefers to only let customers down that he knows.
“Down there we have 45s, 78s, VHS, and some skeletons,” he jokes to another of the 50 or so customers I saw in my 30 min
utes at the store.
“It feels safer in here, Brian,” I jest. “I almost want to run into things to make them crooked again.”
“Actually, the way the carpenter made them, it’s done right,” he replies “If someone got drunk and got thrown against one of those, they’ll hold up. Since you’re starting all over again, you might as well do it right. I’m sure I’ve blown it a few ways, but it’s not finished yet.”
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