AJ Rassau is a music archaeologist.
Thanks to Preserving, a record store housed in a former Presbyterian church in New Kensington, the 36-year-old is bringing new life to thousands of vinyl albums, CDs and cassettes. He also reinvigorates the live performance scene by hosting concerts at Preserving Underground, a basement venue that can accommodate up to 300 people.
Located at 1101 Fifth Ave., the store posts weekly times every Sunday on social media and Google. The next show will be on Friday January 7th with DiLisio, Wampum Dogs, Memory Front and Black Squirrel, Run!
Rassau’s childhood obsession began when he won a Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD at Kennywood. Records are still his favorite and he’s amassed a huge collection of them, from international releases and box sets to demos and DIY swag from hardcore, punk and metal bands.
While technology has put every song at their fingertips, Rassau believes streaming services don’t offer the same kind of listening experience. In a record store, all of the fan’s senses come into play.
“With vinyl, it’s definitely a question of quality rather than quantity. People, especially during the pandemic, couldn’t go to concerts, so they were spending an evening at home with their favorite album. CDs are about to make a comeback. For someone in their twenties, it’s as new as a record.
About five years ago, Rassau decided to turn his hobby into a full-time job by selling his private stash online. As the business grew, it expanded its inventory to include band t-shirts and posters and all types of genres and formats (45, 78 and 8 track cassettes are accepted as donations only. ), then started looking for a location for the mortar. Rassau worked in a small space at the New Ken Courthouse before purchasing the old church in February 2020.
Built in 1895, the church functioned as a place of worship until the Salvation Army took control of it in the late 1970s. Its price was affordable, but like many of the city’s storefronts it is in poor condition. Rassau is restoring the structure to its former glory and hopes to hold non-denominational weddings at the shrine.
Soon a shopper will be able to sell his father’s dusty record collection, browse the store for treasures sold at fair prices, see a band and hang under one roof. Last Halloween, Code Orange organized a live performance there.
Preserving is located in the heart of New Kensington, which, after years of financial difficulty, is seeing an influx of new businesses to Main Street, including Sweet Alchemy Bake Shop, Voodoo Brewery, and Saints and Sailors Art Collective. With Fridays on Fifth and other events designed to attract visitors, New Ken is turning from ghost town to boom town.
Preservation is a destination for collectors and the occasional wax enthusiast. As the inventory is often renewed, each visit is different. People spend hours flipping through the trash to find an album that catches their eye and hopefully their ear too.
“Things just keep coming in,” Rassau says, laughing. “I was worried that owning a record store would turn me into a collector, but I learned that you can’t have it all. “