Rob Roth's customers in Fords, New Jersey, have trees through their houses, no power, no heat and ridiculous lines for gas. So they're not thinking about Rod Stewart's new Merry Christmas, Baby. "It's very adversely affected business," says Roth, who owns a 33-year-old record store called Vintage Vinyl. "The people who do wander in tell you stories about doom and gloom. I understand many people's minds are not on buying music, but hopefully they will return the day after Thanksgiving. That's what I’m shooting for."
Hurricane Sandy's devastating toll on the East Coast has crippled many retailers, and record-industry sources estimate they've taken a 15 percent weekly hit compared to what they might have otherwise made. According to Nielsen SoundScan, album sales were down 12 percent compared to the same week in 2011, despite a strong second-week showing from Taylor Swift's smash Red. The timing is especially tough in the heart of the holiday shopping season, weeks before Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
Record stores, big and small, throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts reported several days of closing and thus major sales hits. "Closed Monday through Saturday morning. Lost a good five days of business. When we opened back up, there weren't a lot of people eager to get down here," a New York City store reported to the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM). Just when loyal customers were starting to straggle back to their record-buying habits, a snowstorm hit the East Coast on Wednesday night. "It's been rough," Roth says.
"By and large, it was really difficult," says Jim Donio, president of NARM, which surveyed several East Coast retailers and shared the data with Rolling Stone. "The business is tough enough, and we're right on the threshold of the biggest selling season right now." But Donio adds that stores were lucky the hurricane's greatest impact was on two traditionally slow sales days, Monday and Tuesday.
It's hard to say which artists and albums took the biggest hits, but Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill's Dreams & Nightmares was especially dependent on East Coast customers. It hit Number Two on the charts and sold 165,000 albums – a respectable number, although Mill's reps had projected more than 250,000. Mill himself suffered minimal weather-related damage, but about 30 nearby family members took refuge in his home near Philly. "When you have a leader like that, everybody comes to you for shelter," says James Lindsay, one of Mill's managers. "It's a big enough house for everybody to be in and everybody's safe."
As far as record sales, Lindsay adds, "New York was the most affected by it – New York is one of his biggest markets. . . . I had some of my relatives go to Target and the record wasn't in there last Thursday or Friday. But the album's very resilient. To be able to do those numbers and still not have access to that northeast corridor, we feel really good."