May 11, 2024

Waterloo Records Celebrates Record Store Day as Future Remains Open Question

Reporting Texas

Shoppers wait in line for Waterloo Records to open on Record Store Day in April. Reporting Texas/Anissa Sanchez

In the early hours of a Saturday in April, a lengthy queue of dedicated music enthusiasts stretched beyond the corner of Waterloo Records for its’ yearly observance of Record Store Day. As the doors unlocked at 8, patrons were ushered in small batches to browse through the store’s esteemed collection of records, CDs and other physical media.

Pacing the store’s perimeter with armfuls of new releases, owner John Kunz meticulously organized albums to maintain order.

“It’s been growing every year,” Kunz said of Record Store Day sales. “Although last year was kind of a tsunami with Taylor Swift being the Record Store Day ambassador and her releasing a record that we went much heavier on than most stores did.”

Although his store was packed, Kunz knew Waterloo may not exist much longer in its current form. Similar to numerous other small businesses in the expanding and evolving landscape of Austin, Waterloo will soon face relocation due to an upcoming development project.

Since acquiring the connected shopping strip at 600 N. Lamar Blvd. in 2019, Endeavor Real Estate Group has notified Kunz that he’ll have to move during the project.

“They were planning on having everyone out a year ago by April, but COVID changed all that,” Kunz said. “It just pushed back everything several years. It’s something that I knew was going to happen.”

As other record stores closed amid the transition to digital streaming, Waterloo has survived and sometimes thrived. Waterloo was originally housed on South Lamar Boulevard where a veterinary hospital now stands. It moved to its present location on North Lamar 35 years ago on April Fool’s Day – an ironic notion that still amuses the 73-year-old Kunz.

In the decades since, the store has been surrounded by new retail and residential development on downtown Austin’s western edge, making it a prime target for Endeavor, one of Austin’s most active commercial real estate companies. 

“It’s a familiar story,” Kunz said. “I’ve been in Austin for 52 years, and I’ve seen so many situations, whether it’s a business or somebody with their apartment or rental house having to move because of the landlord selling the property.”

Between 2022 and 2023, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos Metropolitan Statistical Area saw an increase of over 50,000 residents, marking a growth rate of 2.1% and making the Austin metro the second-fastest growing area in the country. The metro area has more than doubled in population in the past 20 years, to 2.4 million residents.

“These population estimates show a continued trend of strong and rapid population growth for the Austin metro area even if we’re not at the very top of the list,” City of Austin demographer Lila Valencia said in a press release in March.

The steady increase in population has caused the need for more housing. If Endeavor follows through with its contract, the Waterloo location will be replaced by a mid-rise building. Endeavor representatives did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

When Waterloo relocates during construction, it will have the option of moving into another Endeavor property either temporarily or permanently. It’s also been offered the option of returning to the North Lamar property once it’s redeveloped.

“It’s daunting,” Kunz said. “We’ve been looking for that right spot.”

Amid that impending disruption, the annual celebration of Record Store Day provided a relief with business booming, as it does every year. 

Record Store Day, typically held on the third Saturday of April, celebrates the culture of independently owned record stores. Since its inception, the annual event has grown into a global phenomenon, with thousands of participating independent stores and a plethora of exclusive releases from both major artists and independent labels.

“The ignition point for a new artist happens at a store like Waterloo – an independent store where the knowledge and the passion are all right here,” he said. 

Kunz was instrumental in laying the foundation for Record Store Day, having co-founded the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, the organization pivotal in materializing the event. Kunz describes the birth of the coalition as a chain of 45 independent stores, including Waterloo, grouping together to have one point-of-contact person from each store who coordinates with record labels and distributors.

Joceline Garanzuay, 17, deemed waiting in line outside Waterloo Records since 7 a.m. worthwhile to secure special-edition album pressings by Noah Kahan and Chappell Roan.

“I just like that it’s a physical piece of music that you can collect and have a bunch of,” she said.

Garanzuay shops at Waterloo mainly because it has a diverse selection of genres. While she prefers digital streaming for its ease of access, the “pretty versions” of Record Store Day special pressings are also important to her.

A shoppers browses Waterloo Records on a Saturday in April. Reporting Texas/Anissa Sanchez

For customer Justin Campbell, 37, attending Waterloo’s annual Record Store Day is something of a tradition.

“Physical media aspects are usually what I seek out,” he said. “I have Spotify, but I only listen to it in passing.”

Over the span of 20 years, Campbell has built a personal collection of 300-plus vinyl records. Waterloo his favorite spot for its expansive space and the helpfulness of the store’s employees, he said.

Kunz hopes the store’s family-like bonds among staff members will remain when looking toward the store’s uncertain time ahead.

“My hope for the future of the store is that we find the right and affordable and central location,” Kunz said. “Hopefully, it has ample parking for customers and that [the store] is being run by the crew that is in place now.”

“we all share that same vision of wanting to discover and share the music that we love, help build artists’ careers, and have this be the music community town-square gathering place where the exchange of ideas and love of music happens,” he said.