Out with the old and in with the new. It's one of those phrases you hear so often, you rarely question its veracity. The phrase “new and improved” is so routinely slapped on packaging, we’ve grown to assume the two are inextricable. In the tug of war between novelty and nostalgia, we often find ourselves squarely on the side novelty.
Perhaps the starkest proof of this can be seen in the rapid decline of record stores. In New York City, we’ve lost Williamsburg indie hub Sound Fix Records, and East Village mainstays Bleecker Bob’s, and Bleecker Street Records in just the first four months of this year alone.
We’re a generation that has been programmed to hunt down what’s hot, an idea not lost on James Bradley, the owner of Sound Fix, who describes music’s current landscape as a “Spotify-saturated world.”
In the endless quest to be the first to listen to a new single (and write a pithy tweet about it) the speed at which music can be procured makes vinyl an inconvenient reality for some. But our need for instant gratification is only one variable in an ever-evolving equation.
The venerable cultural institution that was once Bleecker Bob’s will soon be replaced by a frozen yogurt shop.
John Kioussis, the former owner of RockIt Scientist records, which has been closed for less than a year, points to big box stores edging out independent retailers. “Franchise stores are moving into the city at a more rapid pace to get into the ‘hot' Village market,” Kioussis notes.
Demand of course, creates rising rents that record store owners with shrinking profit margins can’t afford, which in turn forces them to raise the price of each record. Matt Pullman, manager of Bleecker Street Records says the landlord raised their rent by more than 400%. Bleecker Bob's fell victim to the same economic pressures.
All of these forces have combined to give an unsettling rise to boarded-up record stores strewn throughout the city. We decided it was time to document this alarming trend. Pounding the pavement through the five boroughs, we tracked down the beloved record shops that have gone the way of the dinosaur. Some had been left vacant, while others were replaced by trivial substitutes. The venerable cultural institution that was once Bleecker Bob’s will soon be replaced by a frozen yogurt shop.
DJ Bobbito of the subterranean hip-hop record and sneaker shop Bobbito’s Footwork laments the fact that today's music lovers will never know “the warmth and depth” of analog records. He believes we’ve been conditioned to opt for what’s easily procured, likening the steep divide between an MP3 and vinyl to the difference between a drive-thru cheeseburger and homemade veggie burger.
If, once upon a time, you'd spent your allowance (several weeks' worth) on a record, and now you choose to drop that $12.99 into Apple's wide mouth, you may get the same tracks, but you're missing out on the entirety of the experience. Having a record chosen for you by an owner who knows you. Being in a place where you're surrounded by people who love the same thing you do with the same fervor. When you lose a record store, you don’t just lose access to vinyl, you lose access to a community.
"The experience of entertaining people, helping them buy things they want, and maybe turning them on to a new band that they'd never heard of before keeps the whole music experience vital and alive," says Bleecker Bobs' assistant manager Ski.
Our paltry substitute for community? Blogs. Blogs and lactobacillus.
"Blogs may have replaced the record store as the community gathering point to hear and buy new music,” says Andre Torres, editor-in-chief of Wax Poetics, the bi-monthly hip-hop, funk and soul magazine, “But the record store will continue to be the place where those interested in expanding their musical horizons call home.”
Does that mean vinyl is heading towards extinction? Not neccesarily.
"I've noticed that now much more than in the last five years, a lot of DJs are going back to their roots and spinning on vinyl," says Sharon Bechor, the owner of Rock and Soul, a family-owned Midtown record store that is still thriving after 38 years.
While we can't save every record store in the city from meeting the same fate as Bleecker Bob's, we can get out there and support our local record stores.
Tomorrow is Record Store Day. Make it a point to physically enter one of the city's participating stores, lest you wake tomorrow and find your favorite record store has turned into a yogurt shop.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)
Photography by Liz Barclay (@LizBarclay)
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