April has been a month of us championing our local record stores and today we close out the month with one more. Anyone who has that connection of a parent’s influence leading them to vinyl and a love of music will want to read this story. Meet Jena Haffner, an avid vinyl lover, collector and partner with her father to run one of the largest used record stores in the country Record Exchange in Saint Louis. Record Exchange has been in business since 1977 started by her father Jean, and currently resides in an old library building in south St. Louis. With over 10,000 square feet of music and memorabilia, this is one of the largest vinyl collections in the U.S. and Jena has been lucky enough to be a part of it for 30 years.
When she’s not slinging records with her Dad, she says, “I have several hobbies. I collect antiques from all time periods. My mother owned antique stores, so she has influenced me greatly. I am a dog lover, I have 2 dachshunds- Porkchop & Lucy. They are my babies. I also enjoy creating flower arrangements, spending time outside and drinking red wine. Someday I think I’ll open a wine/record bar. It’ll be pretty cool.“
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I was quite literally born into the industry. It is in my DNA. Seriously! My father opened Record Exchange in the 1970’s and I was born 20 years later into a wealth of music. He has included me in the business since birth and I am currently partnering with him to operate our 10,000+ sqft. store. We went from having 9 locations to 1 massive location. Throughout my adolescence I was taught how to care for, collect and sell vinyl. It has always been a passion of mine. At age 15 I began working in a pizza restaurant, all because I went in to use their restroom and liked that they were playing Stevie Ray Vaughan. I worked there for 14 years, throughout high school and college, with the intention of running the record store once I saved up enough money to be on my own. I always had the dream of owning and operating my own business and have felt motivated since a young age to be my own boss.
What is a day in the life like?
Honestly, unpredictable! We are a used/new media and equipment based store that buys, sells and trades. A typical day includes grading, cleaning and pricing inventory as well as bringing in new product which requires testing equipment several times a day. I also take on the task of a personal shopper most days. My inboxes are flooded with wish lists and I do my best to help fellow record lovers find their prized possessions. A large part of my job includes networking. I enjoy conversing with music lovers throughout the day and find that I learn something new from the connections I make each day.
Favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
A woman in her eighties was looking for an all-in-one record player. She needed help, so we shopped together. She mentioned to me that she was buying it to listen to her husband’s records, he had recently passed away. Once we picked one out, she wanted it demonstrated. She told me, “…throw on some Hank Snow, any Hank Snow, I know it all, that was his favorite.” I put on “Hello Love” and she burst into tears. She gave me a hug and asked me to dance with her. We danced in the lobby for the duration of the song. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Her name was Nancy, and she was the happiest woman I’ve ever met.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
As a teenager I was a huge Pink Floyd fan (who isn’t?!). An original mint copy of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn came in when I was about 17. I had a hard time parting with that one. I held on to it for a couple of years, and wish I never would have let it go. It has now gained interest in sentimental value.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Keeping up with product. Since we are a used store, we have things entering our building daily and it can pile up quickly. I am a bit of a minimalist, so I can struggle with clutter at times
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
Kiss came to one of our old locations while they were in Saint Louis. They weren’t in costume, which might have made it even cooler.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Passion drives success. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, you will easily be able to define your definition of success and pursue it. I think it’s important in this industry to give yourself grace. It’s an ever changing industry and if you can learn to adapt along the way you will be able to keep your head above water. As for records specifically–I would say, don’t take any home. It makes it easier to be a seller if you aren’t a collector. However, I don’t practice what I preach, I have thousands of albums at home.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I’m excited to see a younger generation get into vinyl and keep its relevance alive. For a while I was getting concerned that our clientele would dwindle due to age. But, as of the last 2 years, I have seen an uptick in younger folks buying turntables and vinyl. It’s encouraging to see and a fun to experience to be a part of. Perhaps one good thing that resulted from the pandemic was people getting back in touch with their music while they stayed home.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Yes, I have collected vinyl since I was 10 years old. It’s the best sound out there. And in my opinion, it’s the best tangible source of music to collect. I have a deep admiration for the cover art on records as well. I enjoy the art as much as I do the music in most cases. They both have stories to tell.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
My father and best friend, Jean. I haven’t met anyone quite like him, and I’m not the only one to say that. He has a passion and drive for music that is out of this world. He is contagious. He has this ability to influence others to be the best versions of themselves. He is a particular and stern business man with an empathetic undertone. He offers knowledge any chance he has and he is a wonderful story teller. He’s a true inspiration and I’ve always said I’ll be happy if I turn out to be just half the person he is.
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
Music is the best medicine I sell. I love soul-jazz, early psych-rock, funk and jam bands.
1 thought on “Jena Haffner | Partner, Record Exchange Saint Louis”
This is an exciting read. Great example of our youth finding and driving these wild horses we ride in life!