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After Years of Resistance, Portland Cult Favorite Mississippi Records Is Begrudgingly Embracing the Internet to Stay Alive

Just don't expect it to last.

It took a global health crisis not seen since 1918 to drag Eric Isaacson into the 21st century.

Granted, to this point, he was doing pretty well working outside of it. Mississippi Records, his North Albina Avenue storefront and label of the same name, has earned an international reputation among hardcore audiophiles for its reissues of ultra-obscure soul, folk and blues records, and done so without ever giving in to the trappings of the digital age—no social media, hardly any PR, and a bare-bones website straight out of the Geocities era.

But with the coronavirus shutting down his store, and much of the physical world, Isaacson was faced with a choice: adapt or die.

"It was a split-second decision," he says. "It was either go out of business or keep doing commerce. This is the only option."

By "this," Isaacson means the things that, for most modern record labels, are standard operating procedure. He started a Bandcamp page, offering releases for download on a "pay what you can" model. He's selling gift cards. He's replaced spinning vinyl from behind the counter with daily YouTube playlists. (He also had a plan to temporarily convert the store into an "ultra-antiseptic" recording studio, but the governor's stay-home order halted that idea.)

Most significantly, he's finally started a Discogs store, digging into his personal archives and putting them up for sale: test pressings, original masters, bits of memorabilia from cult legends like John Fahey and Sun Ra. Much of what he's made available has sold within minutes.

"That was my bank account I kept in case I needed an operation, or a friend needed an operation," Isaacson says. "This was the moment."

In the short term, Isaacson's embrace of the internet has already given Mississippi Records a financial cushion as he waits to reopen his store. Just don't expect the love affair to last.

"The minute it's over," he says, "I'm changing back to exactly how I was doing everything before."

Related: From Beer-by-Bike to Stripper Food Delivery, Portland Businesses Are Adapting on the Fly to the Coronavirus Shutdown.