Last Tuesday, Florida voters overwhelming supported raising the state's minimum wage to $15 by 2026. It's a life-changing result for many workers who barely scrape at the current $8.56 rate, a wage that has barely kept up with the rate of inflation in the past 20 years. There's also the cost of living to factor in: Miami's a notoriously expensive city, where $8.56 an hour is hardly enough to cover basic necessities like food, housing, and transport.
At the Little Haiti record store Sweat Records, its eight employees were already getting more than the current minimum wage, with everyone earning over $10 an hour.
But owner Lauren "Lolo" Reskin believed she could do more.
On October 29, Sweat Records announced it would pay its employees $15 per hour.
"Can we afford to do it? Barely. Is it the right thing to do? Unequivocally," Sweat wrote in its announcement.
Like every business in 2020, Sweat Records has had a hard year. First came the pandemic and the closures, then the new rules and the enduring loss of steady foot traffic.
"Music retail stores have always paid a notoriously low wage, and that's due to the fact that we have one of the lowest markups in the world of retail on what we sell," Reskin explains. "If you run a boutique and you're selling earrings, you can mark those up by 100 percent. That's not how record stores work. Our markups are between 20 and 40 percent."
Reskin speaks from experience. She landed her first job in music retail in 1999 at the Virgin Megastore in Sunset Place, where she earned $6.25 an hour.
"It was fine because it was a part-time job in high school," she says.
While most members of Sweat's staff work part-time, they still depend on earning enough to survive. The majority of the store's employees are musicians and DJs who enjoy the flexibility that working at Sweat provides them — if they need to go on tour or have a last-minute gig, Reskin says, she's usually pretty accommodating — and they need the income.
Still, the wage hike is going into effect at a precarious time.
"Since the pandemic happened, [partner Emile Milgrim and I] have had to retool every single element of our business," Reskin explains. "We changed our hours. We changed our staffing. We became a fully online business for three months, and now we are an online and in-person business more than we've ever been."
Reskin describes Sweat's second quarter as "super rough." But during the third quarter, the store actually managed to increase revenue from the year prior — without the usual influx of tourists who stop by, lured in by the Sweat's myriad travel-guide mentions. Reskin attributes the bump to the store's loyal customer base and its online storefront.
"Factoring all these things in, we decided that if we work X harder and make X more amount in sales, we will be able to pay our employees this wage," she says.
Sweat isn't the only business paying its employees $15 per hour. Last week, the Miami Herald reported that Zak the Baker and chef Michael Schwartz's Genuine Hospitality Group had been prepared to pay their employees $15 and see the wage increase as beneficial to their businesses' health. Zak the Baker's Zak Stern pointed out that the wage allows him to retain staff longer, cutting down on high turnover, overtime, and the time required to train new staff.
While Sweat already had a pretty low turnover, Reskin says she does see the long-term benefits to her business, include buoying employee morale and enthusiasm for the job.
There's also been another unexpected benefit.
"As soon as we announced it, we saw a huge number of people signing up to our [paid] membership page," Reskin elaborates. "The kind of support that's been coming in is so wonderful and been so great to hear."
The response isn't entirely surprising. Sweat routinely champions progressive ideals on its social channels, and over the summer, Miami-Dade Mayor-Elect Daniella Levine Cava popped in for a photo op.
As far as the employees, the news was unexpected.
"They were shocked," Reskin reports with evident glee.
Though Reskin has gone public with the wage increase, when asked whether other businesses have sought her advice, she says no — a fact she attributes to the fact that every business is different and what works for her may not work for everyone — especially right now.
That said, she wouldn't hesitate to impart what's she's learned so far.
"I would say to make it public and let your customer base know what you're doing and why you're doing it, because from what we've seen, you will be supported. People will be excited to support you because you are authentically doing the right thing, not because somebody is forcing you but because you know it's right."
Sweat Records. 5505 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-693-9309; sweatrecordsmiami.com. Sunday through Thursday noon to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 7 p.m.
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