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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around Miami.
While most businesses were closing up shop in 2005, Lauren "Lolo" Reskin and her founding partner, Sara Yousuf, were just polishing off their "Come In" sign. A recession, a hurricane, and several robberies are enough to catapult any business into oblivion, but not Sweat Records. For this local record shop, the music just played louder.
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Sweat Records has cemented itself in Miami's culture scene as one of the few female-run record stores in the country and best in the city. It's the kind of place where you can stop in for a fresh cup of Panther, peruse a rack of $1 records, pick up your favorite Tribe Called Quest album, and maybe catch a few live acts on certain nights. It's the kind of place that's "For Miami, by Miami," as Lauren puts it, where you can pick up locally made posters and record players, along with albums from local artists and compilations celebrating Miami's native sounds.
As Lauren puts it, "When you travel, a record store is a great way to see what the pulse is." If that's the case, then Miami's sounds pretty good.
You opened Sweat Records in 2005, smack in the middle of the recession. What were you thinking opening in such an uncertain time?
We were going off of our belief that love of music transcends recessions, and it's kind of true. Even though it's not a thing that's necessary like food, it's something people will still find money for because it's a passion. Especially really passionate music fans. They're always going to want to support the artists that move them so much.
It didn't faze us that it was the recession because we felt we were filling such a niche in Miami. We didn't really have a long term plan for Sweat, we just knew things would change as we went. We were hitting a really good stride when hurricane Wilma destroyed our building. Most stores would have immediately gone out of business but we were like hell no. We were going to keep going. Luckily Churchill's gave us a space in the back. It was maybe 400 or 500 square feet at the most? It was tiny, but we filled up our bins and were open for our first holiday season at the end of 2005. We hung out back there for the first year and a half and moved into the space we're in now in 2007.
When I'm DJing, men come up to me and ask me, 'How do you know this song?' I smile and say, I own a record store.
I feel like Sweat Records encompasses a community. You guys are the go-to source for indie music events, whether they're your own or not.
As we started bringing down more bands and knew of more events going on, we started a mailing list that advertised events besides our own. We've never excluded someone's event because it was competition. We have an area where anyone can leave a flyer for their event. There's so many cool things to do in Miami but it is definitely a place where you have to dig a little bit and do a little bit of research to get under that surface. But now there's so much stuff. I remember waiting around for six months to see a show I wanted to see in high school and now I'm torn between what to do each night.
What's something that sets you apart from others?
We're happy to make changes and we really listen to our customers. Emile Milgrim is our music buyer and my managing partner, and knows almost all of our customers by name. As soon as they walk through the door she says, 'Hey I have that thing you ordered!' That's an experience people want. I travel to other record stores and it pisses me off when I walk in and nobody says hi to me, or they ignore me and say hi to my boyfriend. It makes me crazy.
That's so ignorant. Do you find there's a huge amount of sexism in the industry?
It's just a male dominated industry. You just have to be assertive. Again, nothing related to that has held us back, and it almost makes us stronger because we're diplomatic– we don't have egos in the way. It's similar to the arguments I've heard for a female president. I just saw Patton Oswalt last night at the Fillmore and he was like, 'We need a female president because females are the ones who take care of stuff!'
What's a piece of advice you could give future business owners?
Don't let anyone stop you, speak your mind, and if someone tries to stop you, put them in their place. Or make a note of it so you don't have to work with them anymore. When I'm DJing, men come up to me and ask me, 'How do you know this song?' I smile and say, I own a record store. I am a student of music.
What genre would you say you carried the most of?
We carry everything. There's a punk metal section, experimental noise, instrumental music, jazz, funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop from all eras, electronic music, world music, reissues of all kinds. We have Taylor Swift on vinyl. We don't discriminate. There's almost nothing we don't carry and if we don't, we'll do a special orders and we don't charge extra. The cool thing about almost anything new is that it comes with a download code so you get the MP3s for free which is a huge thing in the industry. It makes it so much easier for us to sell.
Any best sellers?
Miami loves hip-hop and certain hip-hop classics never stop selling. Like every year on our top ten list is Nas Illmatic and Enter the Wu Tang Clan 36 Chambers. Even though those records are around 20 years old at this point, people still love them and they're great to listen to. Our top sellers are probably similar to other record stores, but we do sell a lot of local talent like this band Holly Hunt. They're like elegant instrumental metal. They were on our best seller list last year, which means local people are really supporting local music.
You also have a system for buying and selling used records.
Please, if you have old records, we'll buy them! We pay good prices. A specialist comes in a couple times a week and appraises all the records that are now in the used section. A lot of record stores don't do this, but we have a lot of information on the tags. We'll put the record through a database so you can find out things like what record label it came from, if it's a double album, when they put it out, stuff like that. It's priced according to how rare it is and what the quality is. We're not just writing number on a card and throwing it out there. It's appraised.
Sweat also sells record players. What's something everyone should know before buying one?
Records aren't always perfectly flat. They have a slight variation, so nice turntables with arms made of metal are built to allow the records to jiggle a little. We sell turn tables, both new and vintage/refurbished, from a local company called Spin Alley and another called SD Machines. Just don't buy one of those Urban Outfitters record players. They're garbage. They're definitely cute, but they're plastic and just not good at playing records. A lot of other record stores have started putting up signs saying they don't accept returns on records played on Crosleys because it's really become a thing.
How many people do you have on staff?
We, right now, have six people on staff. Five girls, one guy.
What do you and your staff do on your off time?
Everyone except me and our guy plays in bands. We actually made all our employees play Sweatstock this year... Emile is the drummer in a band and is starting the inaugural Miami Girls Rock Camp in July with all female instructors. She also has a record label. Alejandra plays in two bands, and Jason... we're not really sure what Jason does on his off time, but he does a lot of vintage shopping. I DJ the lobby at the Delano on Wednesday nights and play music from the 40s to the 70s only, and I'm also a consultant and programmer for this boutique firm in Wynwood that does background music for restaurants, retail, and hospitality. We have really good clients too. We just brought on Jugofresh last month and we currently work with Blue Collar, Mignonette, The Betsy Hotel, The Shelborne...
You recently launched Sweat Shop Miami, your online store. What can we find on the site?
Sweat Shop Miami started as an online store for just local stuff but we actually just added all of our inventory of vinyl. You can buy local cool merchandise like the Iron Forge Press posters you see on our walls. Those are made in Fort Lauderdale and we are their official web store. We're the official web store for this local musician called Otto Von Schirach who has a huge following around the world, so we send his shirts out to Europe all the time. We're not trying to be Amazon, our prices are still decent. We order direct as much as possible so we can keep our prices low. So if you wanted to buy a copy of MGMT's album and support Sweat instead of buying it on Amazon, you now can.
What about Live at Sweat? That's your next big project, right?
After Sweatstock cools down we're going to be launching LiveAtSweat.com, which is going to feature highlights from in-store events and a sessions series. A little story tellers, a little jamming, we'll put the clips online and then give them back to the bands so that they have something to promote themselves with. For Sweatstock, bands email us to book them. Then they send us a video link and it's like a vertical cell phone video.
In the ten years you've been open, you've survived obstacles many business owners probably wouldn't. What's something you learned from all of that?
I luckily have been the kind of person who doesn't overly stress about things that are beyond my control. Obviously it sucked when we had 17 months of street construction outside of our shop but I wasn't tearing my hair out. I was calling the city to tell them we need access to the store and a blue sign outside to tell people we were still open. It's all about not letting stuff like that get you down. Make a plan for the next thing to do and take care of that. Otherwise you're stuck moping, and as much as we listen to The Smiths, we're not about that.
I think it's time for a little fire round.
Tequila or vodka?
Dr. Dre or Arctic Monkeys?
They should cover each other's songs.
Heels or flats?
Flats because I'm always DJing or working.
Spotify or iTunes?
Both, on a regular basis.
Favorite stores to shop in Miami?
I think Sprout is adorable and I love plants. If I'm buying stuff for my boyfriend I go to Supply & Advise and Lost Boys. Books & Books is a huge inspiration for us. We have infinite respect for them and what they've done for the book fair and everything. There's so many great stores down here. I love it.
Favorite neighborhood in Miami?
Beach or mainland Miami?
Favorite hair color?
I've been a redhead for the last eight or nine years, however when I'm an old woman I plan to have lime green, aqua, or turquoise. I can't wait to be old because I'm going to dye it so many ridiculous colors.