Evan Chern, the owner of Miami’s oldest record store, Yesterday & Today Records, was in Alabama during the initial peak of COVID-19 lockdown. When Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez deemed retail spaces nonessential, there was no choice but to close. Chern opted to leave town with his family to visit his stepson and relax for a few weeks but soon came back to Florida on his own to tend the shop.
Founded in 1981 by Richard Ulloa, Yesterday & Today had four locations at its peak: three in Miami-Dade and one in Gainesville. Over the decades, the record store built its reputation on its expansive selection and Chern’s in-depth knowledge of music. Chern, a radio DJ at WDNA, became business partners with Ulloa in the mid-’90, with Chern eventually taking full ownership of the store in 1998. Since then, he’s continued to be a friendly face for new customers and regulars alike.
According to Chern, Yesterday & Today’s monthlong closure this year is the most prolonged period the storefront has been shuttered.
“It was pretty tough not being open,” Chern says. “It was pretty tough not getting any income.”
Still, Chern thought about how he could recalibrate the store to adjust to the so-called new normal.
After returning to Florida, he reorganized a lot of the clutter that had gathered over the years. Cratediggers who frequented before the shutdown may remember large piles of records in disarray near the front of the store. Chern, along with his only other employee, Bob Rubin, went through the process of evaluating, cleaning, pricing, and alphabetizing the stacked records and reorganizing them in the correct bins. The stack included gems like original pressings of Meat Is Murder by the Smiths, Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock, and Impressions by John Coltrane. Chern was left with so many extra records after the reorganization that he was able to cut the prices down on the overstock.
Beyond tidying up, Chern knew he needed to put measures in place to minimize the risk of spreading of COVID-19 to him and his customers. (Owing to their age, both he and Rubin are at higher risk if they contract the virus.) Masks are mandatory, there’s a new maximum store occupancy, and strict social distance between patrons is enforced for the protection of all concerned. A Plexiglas divider at the register provides a physical barrier between employees and customers. And surfaces are cleaned thoroughly every evening after closing and again before opening in the morning.
Five weeks into Yesterday & Today’s new normal, Chern reports that business has been steady. The first day was slow, with worried consumers calling to ask if it was safe to visit. But by the second day, Chern says, it “was madness.”
“We had to keep people out,” he tells New Times. “There was a line outside the door that stretched down the stairs of the lot we’re in. It was really super-busy, and we just tried to control it the best we could. It’s been pretty steady since, but nowhere near that day. We have our slow days and our busy days. There are still people trickling in and learning that we’re open. So it’s been picking up.”
For those who don’t yearn to thumb through used vinyl, Yesterday & Today offers curbside pickup. Chern notes that “a large percentage of people are ordering online,” but that there are “still those that like to see what they’re getting.”
He’s not opposed sending records through the mail to customers who prefer to stay home.
“If it were Star Trek, we could transport the records or something like that,” he says with a laugh.
“We do our best to handle it, we really do,” he says of the pandemic-induced restrictions. “There are lots of people who come in, and masks are uncomfortable, and they try to take them off, but we try to explain to them that they’re for other people in the store and not only for yourself — to protect somebody else. So, please, no matter how uncomfortable, just put it on until you leave.”
Yesterday & Today Records. 9274 SW 40th St., Miami; 305-554-1020; vintagerecords.com.