A.J. Rassau is a music archaeologist.
Through Preserving, a record shop housed inside a former Presbyterian church in New Kensington, the 36-year-old is giving new life to thousands of vinyl albums, CDs and cassettes. He’s also reinvigorating the live performance scene by hosting concerts at Preserving Underground, a basement venue that can accommodate up to 300 people.
Rassau’s childhood obsession began when he won a Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD at Kennywood. Discs are still his favorite and he’s amassed a large 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 our fingertips, Rassau thinks streaming services don’t offer the same kind of listening experience. At a record store, all of a fan’s senses come into play.
“With vinyl, it’s definitely a quality over quantity thing. People, especially during the pandemic, couldn’t go to concerts, so they’d spend an evening at home with their favorite album. CDs are poised to make a comeback next. To someone in their 20s, they’re equally as novel as a record.”
About five years ago, Rassau decided to turn his hobby into a full-time gig by selling his private stash online. As the business grew, he expanded his inventory to include band T-shirts and posters and all types of genres and formats (45s, 78s and 8-track tapes are accepted as donations only) and then set out to find a brick-and-mortar location. Rassau worked out of a small space at the New Ken courthouse before purchasing the former church in February 2020.
Built in 1895, the church operated as a house of worship until the Salvation Army took it over in the late-1970s. It was affordably priced, but like a lot of city storefronts, is in disrepair. Rassau is restoring the structure to its former glory and hopes to hold nondenominational weddings in the sanctuary.
Soon a customer can sell their dad’s dusty record collection, peruse the shop for treasures sold at fair trade prices, see a band and get hitched all under one roof. Last Halloween, Code Orange held a live-stream performance there.
Preserving is located in the heart of New Kensington, which, after years of financial hardship, is seeing an influx of new businesses on the main drag, 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 going from ghost town to boom town.
Preserving is a destination for collectors and casual wax fans alike. Since the inventory is replenished often, each visit is different. Folks spend hours flipping through bins to find an album that catches their eye, and, hopefully, their ear, too.
“Stuff does not stop coming in,” Rassau says with a laugh. “I worried that becoming a record store owner would turn me into a hoarder, but I’ve learned that you can’t have it all.”