Interview: Roger Bong reflects on two years of AGS Honolulu

Interviews Record Shops / Crate Digging Reflections

This is a cross-post from AGS Honolulu's website.

Originally going to be used as an office space for the Aloha Got Soul record label, AGS Honolulu has grown to fill in the gaps of Hawaiʻi’s music community. Born out of a desire to provide a space where music lovers could experience an elevated record shop with an emphasis on independent artists and labels, AGS Honolulu offers a welcoming environment that's also fully stocked with releases from Hawaiʻi artists past and present.

Now open seven days a week (during the first 6 months of operation, we were only open 3-4 days a week), we've expanded into hosting regular  events in the shop, including a monthly coffee pop-up with Drip Cafe and our third Sunday’s at the Shop with live all-vinyl DJs.

Our continued expansion also includes fostering internships with young professionals in the community. AGS's current intern, Riley Haruki-Murakami, recently sat down with the shop's owner, Roger Bong, to talk about where the shop's been and where it's going at the two-year mark. 

“It was just going to be an office space”, said Roger Bong, owner of AGS Honolulu, when asked what the original plan was for the shop. Fast forward two years later and Aloha Got Soul has transcended into so much more, not just collectors of vinyl but for all generations of music lovers. In preparation for the shop's celebration of its second year of business, Bong reflects upon his journey with AGS Honolulu and what’s next to come for the record shop. 

What was the original goal for AGS Honolulu? 

Roger: My partner at the time and I were looking for an office space for the record label. After visiting this location on King St. we knew it had the potential to also be a store, and that’s where the beginnings of AGS Honolulu took off from. 

We had this idea for a record store at the front and our office in the back. We also wanted to be able to fill a gap locally by providing a welcoming space for the music community. There’s two more traditional record stores on island, so that gap’s already being filled, you know? So, we wanted to create something that would bring more of a curated approach with an emphasis on independent music, labels, and of course artists on our label. We found inspiration from our travels, visiting boutique record shops in places like Japan, New York, and LA, and together we tried to figure out how that would translate into a record store in Honolulu. 

And so we opened June of 2021 amidst a global pandemic of all things, and hoped for the best. It was just the two of us then, no employees and we were only open three to four days a week, which limited our ability to do much for the store because the label also needed attention.

Sometime around September 2021 it was really slow at the shop. This challenged us to think about solutions. We realized the importance of having a website and focused our efforts on building an online store. From there we relied on the fact that [because of the pandemic] people had a real desire to get out of the house and do something. I think AGS Honolulu offered that to a lot of people, it was something new to check out, and again we wanted to try and bring the record store into the modern era. Customers saw this when they came into the store, and from there we’ve just been doing our best to continue to provide a space for independent music and for the local community.

What are your proudest achievements so far?  

Definitely being able to have two full-time employees! The way I look at it, the label supports artists, and the shop supports its staff. As a small business, being able to sustain ourselves has just been such a rewarding feeling. Oh, and being open seven days a week instead of only three or four! 

What did you not expect to accomplish that you actually did in this second year of business? 

Well, having a physical space after being just a label for so long made what I do feel so much more worthwhile because of all the face-to-face interactions that happen with a physical location. Having AGS Honolulu allows us to make meaningful connections with artists, customers, and anyone who wonders into the shop. 

Any highlights of this second year of business?

I’m really happy with the monthly community events that we’ve been able to do at the shop. Collaborating with Drip Cafe, our Third Sundays at the Shop, we even had a DJ workshop for women led by our good friend Lulu which was just such a huge success! It’s already a lot of work to run the shop, and to be able to do events on top of that is really rewarding. 

What would you like to do more of next year? 

Definitely more monthly events, those are just so fun for us and we get to engage with the community even more. We are currently getting the ball rolling on having live music in the store.

How do you think people see AGS Honolulu today?

I hope that people see AGS as something that contributes to the feeling that all things are possible. 

We can exist as a small store with high impact, and just because places like Target and Barnes & Noble exist [selling vinyl], it doesn't mean that AGS can’t exist as well. Even with the internet, where you can buy anything you want at anytime from the comfort of wherever you are, I hope that people see us as a sign that smaller brick-and-mortar operations can continue to do what they do and not feel pressured to follow what everyone else does.  

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