Stephen Gritzan

Stephen Gritzan, founder and owner of Iris Records. (Photo by Mark Rotundo)

What was once considered a staple of the local surrounding community by residents is reaching the end of its run.

Iris Records, a vinyl records and CD music store has come to a close after 25 years of operation in Jersey City.

Stephen Gritzan, longtime owner and store manager, started his career as a retail stockbroker and financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Washington D.C. He decided to leave that business and to sell records, which led him to Jersey City where he opened up his store on March 1,1994.

Iris Records

Iris Records was built upon a bedrock of Jersey City culture and history. In its place used to be an old pharmacy. (Photo by Mark Rotundo)

He set up shop in an old pharmacy building on Brunswick Street, with vestiges like the old medicine bottles scattered throughout the shop still remaining. With the vintage soda machine near the cash register, or the “Spice of Life” sign showing the buildings history, Iris Records was built upon a bedrock of Jersey City culture.

Since then, he has been a very proactive member of the city, serving as a small jewel of the community. Gritzan would even hand out records to the older residents in the area for free for their listening leisure, an act like this is what many customers are going to miss.

“We help old people, we give old people records. I have some older people around the block, but I bring records and just give them to them. We do things that big companies aren't going to do and that's the loss and everybody knows that,” he said.

Iris Records served a very important role in the way some residents were exposed to music, with working class residents buying from the store due to their lack of access to the internet. But for others it was more than that.

According to Gritzan, the store served as a sort of hangout spot for the older and younger crowds alike.

The store would even sometimes hold live concerts, performances and readings, which further solidified the cultural importance of Iris Records.

“The experience of interacting with people about music, sharing music that you all love,” Gritzan said. “It's something that's not political and it's not negative and it's very upbeat and it's really very enjoyable.”

Given that the sales of vinyl records have reached an all time high as of late, with an infographic from the Nielsen Holdings Company reporting an over 14 million documented vinyl LP sales in 2017 alone, so why would Iris Records fail in a market that is being stimulated in recent years? Especially since when the store first opened few people shopped there, and initially only opened only once week.

“Rent keeps going up. That's part of it,” Gritzan said. “And I'm getting older. It's a lot of work. My rent went up 40 percent last year and my sales stayed the same. So it's taking money directly out of my pocket.”

This seems to be the tale for many business owners and residents in Jersey City. As more wealthy residents move in and more luxury condos are built, it brings the word ‘gentrification’ to mind, and how it may have applied to the closure of Iris Records.

Jersey City Condos

Luxury condos being built just down the block, serve as a symbol for some residents of gentrification. (Photo by Mark Rotundo)

Down the block from the closed-down records store, brand new luxury condos are being built at the corner of Brunswick Street, a very bluntforce example of the past culture of lower income residents being pushed out in favor of newer wealthier residents.

“Gentrification is a tricky thing because people want to live here and who's to say they can't? I'm not angry about that. But I mean there's no question that gentrification is part of the situation,” said Gritzan.

Another element that Gritzan believes is also the primary reason Iris Records needed to close is the rise of online retailers like Amazon that make pricing much more competitive. This in turn can make shops like Iris Records go out of business.

“I have customers come in the store and they say, ‘We can buy this on Amazon for $14 can you sell it to us for $14?’” he said. “I say no, I got to sell it for $16 or $17. I'm trying to stay in business.”

Gritzan had announced the eventual closing of his business online and on Instagram to his thousands of followers on Jan. 30. His announcement was quickly met with over 100 comments expressing their deep sadness to see the store close.

Iris Records Closes

On January 30th, Gritzan announced online to his customers that Iris Records will soon shut down. (Photo by Mark Rotundo)

Lateef Dameer, musician and supporter of Iris Records commented on the announcement said, “Iris literally changed my life for the better. A true gem of the community.”

Gritzan aimed to address the concern of customers who still want to support his business, stating “We'll continue to be here. We're not leaving, we're just closing the shop.”

Gritzan, alongwith running the shop, participated in many outdoor sales such as the Grand Bazaar in Jersey City and NYC and says that he will still continue to do so in spite of the shop closing.

He is also the founder of Record Riots, which holds outdoor sales on the PATH Plaza in Jersey City six times a year.

“I want to reiterate that we're not leaving and that we're going to continue to do a lot of different things.”

Although Jersey City residents will miss out on the once iconic records shop on Brunswick Street, Gritzan promises to deliver that same quality service to the rest of the community.

“I've been blessed to work in Jersey City and have a business here and people have been great,” he said. “People have been so supportive of the store in these last days, talking to me and encouraging me and thanking me. I'm very grateful for the whole thing.”

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