I think it’s safe to say Rabbitfoot Records shattered all expectations by becoming one of downtown Sanford’s top daytime destinations. Open just nine months in the historic Bishop Block on First, the irreverent coffee bar/record store combination is already expanding into a new location, just a block behind their current home.
Now, while I get to sit down with owner Rob Wallace almost every day, on this occasion, I had the pleasure of asking him some questions I never had before! First off, I wanted to know what brought Rabbitfoot to Sanford. The original Rabbitfoot Records opened in Titusville in March 2012, as both a record store and press, without the signature organic coffee Sanfordites know and love. While Rob and wife Kendra always knew they wanted to open a second store, turns out the choice of Sanford and coffee were just happy accidents.
“We knew a second store, with a bar of some sort, maybe coffee, was an eventuality,” Rob said. “In November of 2013, I had signed a lease, given a deposit and gotten a key to a place in Merrit Island Square Market.” He was looking forward to fostering a new “slick, corporate” style shop. He was at the shop, tape measure in hand, when he got a call informing him that FYE, an actual corporate operation, was blocking Rabbitfoot from opening. After that, Rob said it was back to square one, and they started searching for a brick and mortar store in Cocoa Village and Cocoa Beach. After finding a place they loved, and drawing up a contract, Rob had some second thoughts.
“I said, you know what? When I had written our business plan three years before, I included the idea of expanding to other small towns, and I had mentioned Sanford. So I thought, before we sign this contract, maybe it’s worth it, let’s head up to Sanford.”
Rob had been to Sanford before, when he and his band, the Horrible Hound Dogs, played once at West End and Little Fish Huge Pond. He said he recognized the Bishop Block location as the place they once played as soon as he walked inside. So what was his initial impression of Sanford as the spot for his new store? “We saw a few vacant places, and even though it was cold, wet, overcast and there was no one on the street, we saw the potential. We just said, ‘I guess we’ll find out.'”
He looked around and noticed that no one was specializing in coffee, which made the move to open a coffee bar complete with organic Colombian beans and a stout espresso machine a no-brainer. Rob describes their reception in Sanford as “very warm and positive”. As someone who is here almost every day (Jeremy is very addicted to coffee), I can attest to Rabbitfoot’s amazing popularity among locals. The shop fills and empties multiple times a day with folks from all walks of life, and the constant flux makes Rabbitfoot a hub for running into downtown neighbors and sharing some Sanford-Centric talk. Despite this, Rob doesn’t think he’s made as big of a splash in Sanford as he can.
“We see almost three new faces every day, people who didn’t even know we were here,” he says. Rob said they will continue to integrate Rabbitfoot into the daily consciousness of Sanford residents and workers to make the most out of their move. “What I hope is that people coming up Sanford Ave every morning to go to the courthouse or county services building will swing by the new shop as part of their morning routine.”
Okay, let’s talk about the new Rabbitfoot.
What are the top three things you want people to know about the new shop?
1. New Hours
“The plan is to be open from 6am to midnight on the weekdays. We’re toying with the idea of opening later on the weekends, but we will be staying open until 2, 2:30 in the morning on Friday and Saturday. You know, to catch the after bar crowd and help them sober up before their drive home.”
2. Menu and Record Expansions
“We will have an increased food menu , with baked goods made on location, as we will have the capability to do that. Also, we are expanding the size of the record store to be the size of a proper record store, not just the hybrid size thing. With the Titusville store shut down, we want to provide a full service record shop, because that’s what we were known for.”
3. Same Old Rabbitfoot
“We will still have the same smart alec-y and suggestive attitudes from the staff that you’ve come to know and love. You know how the usual topics of conversation go in this environment.”
Would you say that’s part of your branding, the snarky attitude?
“I’ve never tried to brand us that way, I just think we’re being who we are. Obviously, we care about the quality of our products, and I like people to work here who know and love coffee and know and love music. We’re real people, and we’re gonna talk to you in a real way. We’re always appropriate for the clientele, but once we get to know you, we’re gonna make you feel like part of the team, like you are part of the crew. We’re just hanging out with you, drinking coffee, and I think that’s why we love our jobs so much.”
How do you respond to people who call records a passing hipster craze?
“Well sure, I could see why some people would think it’s a passing craze, same way capri pants were in the nineties. However, the way I explain to people why records are so popular now is that 2013 was the biggest year for record sales ever, and that’s just for new releases. That’s bigger than when the Beatles were doing their thing, and 2014 is already set to beat 2013. The way I look at it, is in the digital age, we crave physical experience more than ever, even if we don’t realize it. You can fit ten thousand songs on an iPod, so why would you want a CD? It’s still a digital format. Records are different, you have to love them, dust them, and you establish a relationship with them. You know if you have a first press, a second press. When you have people over, you can flip records with your friends and have a glass of wine and you’re sharing a physical experience. And I know some people think it doesn’t sound different, but it does, period. The further we get into the digital age, people will want more of that, and they’re not going to go away again. Record plants can’t even keep up with demand right now. People still want records.”
It’s hard not to love Rob’s conviction and commitment to Rabbitfoot and sharing his love of vinyl. In terms of his reasons for moving, Rob stresses the need for more space and more freedom to develop Rabbitfoot the way he wants. He said, “With the closing of the Titusville store, we want the flagship store to be the biggest and best thing available, the best record store in central Florida, in Florida, in the southeast, in the world. I’m not going to be happy with what I have until it is the best or exactly what I imagined in my mind. The new place is three times bigger, and I need that space to grow. It’s a big, open canvas, and the perfect opportunity to implement all of the ideas we’ve had all along.”
Rock on, Rob. Can’t wait to sip a Sumalee Special in the new place!
The new Rabbitfoot location is 309 E. 2nd St, between Sanford and Palmetto, next to West End Trading Co.! The new store is slated to open in early January. You can direct questions about Rabbitfoot to Rob on the Rabbitfoot business FB page.