In his new store — a pandemic venture that started out as a hobby — David Boykin is as much tour guide through the collections as salesman. He points out the Bing Crosby jukebox, a portrait of a high-society woman whose name is lost to St. Louis history, the few pieces of Josephine Baker memorabilia that haven't sold already, vintage KSHE bumper stickers designed to promote St. Louis tour stops of legends such as Pink Floyd, and more than 100 clocks, all but two in working order.
"The No. 1 comment: 'There's too much. I'm overwhelmed,'" he says. To make his point he gestures to a half Volkswagen taxicab that somehow disappears at the left of the entrance. "I have this gigantic car here, and they never see it."
Frenchtown Records, Antiques & More opened October 1 at 941 Park Avenue, a rare retail shop along the southern border of the LaSalle Park neighborhood, just across Interstate 44 from Soulard. It's in this location because Boykin and his wife Christine live a few doors down, but the reason the business exists at all is the pandemic.
"We were bored silly," Boykin says of the decision to bring the combination record-antique store to life.
The overarching narrative of COVID-19's effect on small businesses is one of destruction. While Amazon cashed in on the switch to increased online ordering in a socially distanced world and pocketed record profits that were more than $100 billion higher in 2020, the past twenty months have been an ongoing wake for St. Louis restaurants and mom-and-pop stores. The ones that have survived have almost universally suffered body blows that will leave deep bruises for years to come.
But it's not all ruin. Determined entrepreneurs have also found openings in the chaos to launch new ventures, expand operations or chase dreams they otherwise might never have pursued.
That was true of Boykin, who has a long-running financial services business in Clayton but was also inspired to do something with his giant collection of vinyl. His offerings at Frenchtown reflect his tastes, focusing primarily on rock, punk, reggae, soul and classical. The shop doesn't sell online, and the collection is smaller than that of other record stores, but tightly curated.
Christine Boykin, nicknamed the Chandelier Whisperer, works alongside her husband with a small staff to manage the many specialties of the place. David Boykin says they ended up doing the renovation on the two-story building themselves after finding it nearly impossible to find and keep contractors during the early pandemic. Eventually, they plan to host concerts in the adjacent lot and maybe even expand into the top floors or build a warehouse in back.
Asked if he would have recommended to his financial services clients to open a business during a global health and economic crisis, Boykins laughs.
"No. For anyone doing any type of retail, it's dicey," he says, even in normal times. "It's outrageous how much comes at you when you open a small business."
But for him, it was the opportunity to step back and try something new, something he says wouldn't have happened otherwise.
"If it wasn't for COVID," Boykin says, "this would never be here."