November 21, 2013
Records Are Dying? Not Here
By BEN SISARIO
BUZZSAWS were buzzing, hammers were hammering, and a sea of empty display racks awaited their wares one morning this week in a cavernous storefront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a typical scene of retail construction in every way except for what was coming: a record store.
When it opens on Monday, Rough Trade NYC - a branch of the London shop that has been an independent tastemaker since 1976 - will be the biggest record store in New York City, an ambitious bet on CDs and vinyl at a time when thousands of other music retailers have closed, and the music industry over all looks to a largely digital future.
"We feel we've got a model that works," said Stephen Godfroy, a co-owner of the store. "This is a place where you will actually want to spend time."
Rough Trade NYC, on a not-quite-postindustrial block of North Ninth Street, near the East River, is the kind of place that most music fans had given up hope for in New York: an airy 15,000-square-foot temple to record retail, with a coffee counter and a 300-person-capacity performance space with a bar that will present concerts almost daily.
In the planning for four years, Rough Trade NYC has the enthusiastic support of record labels, which see vibrant independent shops like it - including the hangar-size Amoeba Music in California and the small but influential Other Music in the East Village - as not only sales outlets but also social spots that counter the perception that the record industry is dying.
"We're a little jealous of Amoeba," said Daniel Glass of Glassnote Records, an ear-to-the-ground music executive in New York since the 1970s. "This is going to be a terrific moment for music. It reminds me of when Tower opened up at Fourth and Broadway."
Like almost everything in the music business, the role of record stores has shifted in the last decade. Once a retail staple, with anchor chains in malls and mom-and-pops around every college campus, record shops have been decimated in most areas. Tower closed its 89 American outlets in 2006; Virgin shut down its last Megastore in North America in 2009; and, in Britain this year, the once-mighty HMV chain shuttered dozens of stores while in receivership.
Meanwhile, shops like Rough Trade have quietly thrived, helped by a resurgence of vinyl sales and by cultivating an anticorporate, fan-centered attitude. Record Store Day, held each April since 2008, has also focused promotional efforts through one-day-only record releases. (Record Store Day's satellite event, Back to Black Friday, will be held next Friday.)
"If you create an atmosphere that is conducive to spending time, then people will buy a record, whether it's on their first visit, or maybe second or third," Mr. Godfroy said.
But surviving in the current market is not as easy as stocking collectible products and adding a cafe. Almighty Music Marketing, a company that maintains a retail database, says that more than 300 music shops have opened since 2009. Yet, in New York, another batch has gone to the vinyl graveyard over the last year or two, among them Bleecker Bob's, Rockit Scientist, Tropicalia in Furs, Gimme Gimme and Big City. Still, Williamsburg and Greenpoint are dotted with stores, including Academy Record Annex, Permanent Records and Record Grouch.
Mike Dreese, a founder of Newbury Comics, a chain of nearly 30 music and pop-culture shops in New England, praised Rough Trade as "the real deal" and credited the original London store with supplying punk records that helped him establish his own business in the late 1970s. But he noted the risks of a venture on the scale of Rough Trade NYC.
"I believe they will have a rip-roaring success for a year or two," Mr. Dreese said, "but the real question is three or four years out, what happens to this market."
Rough Trade opened its first shop just as London's punk scene was exploding, and the tiny store developed a rare authority to define cool by being picky about what it stocked. Its founder, Geoff Travis, soon started a record label by the same name, and the two businesses split in 1982. The shop's fortunes have fluctuated over the years, but it has flourished since 2007 with the opening of Rough Trade East, a 5,500-square-foot branch in London's East End that has a coffee bar and a stage for in-store performances. Since then, Mr. Godfroy said, Rough Trade has had double-digit sales growth each year.
To make what Mr. Godfroy calls a "destination-store experience," Rough Trade NYC has gone with an industrial-chic design, its interior walls lined with the metal from 16 old shipping containers, and murals of fashionable album covers (Arcade Fire, the Velvet Underground) hand-painted over exposed brick. Concerts will take place in a spacious separate room in back, some of them free (or free with a purchase), and others booked and sold by the powerhouse local promoter the Bowery Presents.
The store also includes what it calls simply "the room," a combination promotional zone and rotating art installation. For the first undertaking in the space, Glassnote will use 3-D projectors to recreate the bedroom of the rapper Childish Gambino (who is also the actor Donald Glover, a star of the NBC show "Community"), in a design that Mr. Glass likened to the almost uncomfortably intimate work of the British artist Tracey Emin.
Touches like these can give brick-and-mortar stores an identity in a market that has become dominated by the Internet, said Martin Mills, chairman of the independent record company Beggars Group.
"As more and more business moves online and also to the malls," Mr. Mills wrote in an email, "there is an increasing countervailing human demand for community, for localness, for tangible beauty, for specialist knowledge, for range, for retail experiences that are not price-dependent but make you feel good."
Rough Trade NYC is majority-owned by the British store, whose investors also include Beggars through its XL label. (Making things even more confusing, the Rough Trade label - still separate from the stores - is half-owned by Beggars.)
Mr. Godfroy declined to reveal the construction costs of Rough Trade NYC, but he did share some of the "hugely frustrating" experience of settling on the location and dealing with the complications of New York building permits. Rough Trade had originally hoped to open the store two years ago, he said.
If it is successful, though, Mr. Godfroy said that he hopes the Brooklyn store can be "an epicenter of change."
"There is a way to retail music in a way that's popular, viable, profitable and exciting," he said. "It's not rocket science, it really isn't. You're selling something that people love. You just have to do it in a way that's faithful to the art and to the public."
Time will tell whether that way includes coffee and concerts.
SOUNDS FOR SALE
The next two weeks are big ones for New York record lovers. Besides the opening of Rough Trade NYC on Monday, WFMU's annual record fair is returning after a one-year absence, and Back to Black Friday, one of the two Record Store Day events of the year, is coming next Friday.
The Fair Outside of eBay, your best bet for finding that $60 tropicália LP or limited edition Iron Maiden picture-disc is WFMU's Record Fair, which benefits that famously eclectic, noncommercial radio station based in Jersey City. The fair, which has dozens of dealers as well as live performances and film screenings, was canceled last year in the wake of Hurricane Sandy but makes its return this weekend to the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, in Chelsea. For more information: wfmu.org/recfair.
The Shops Record Store Day has been supporting independent shops each April since 2008 with one-day-only records that lead to lines around the block at some stores. It has since expanded to include an event the day after Thanksgiving. This year will feature special releases by Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and the Roots, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Nick Lowe. More information, including a list of participating stores, is at recordstoreday.com. Rough Trade NYC will carry some Back to Black Friday releases, but Stephen Godfroy, one of the owners of the shop, said, "The main thing for us is that we're just glad to be open."
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Article List• November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here
• March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside
• December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another
• April 20, 2012 - Boston.com - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick
• November 20, 2011 - Salon.com - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?
• June 9, 2011 - NJ.com - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good
• April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival
• February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location
• August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction
• January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores
• September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove
• August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music
• June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore
• May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession
• April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback
• April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together
• April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops
• April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers
• April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza
• April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street
• January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block
• October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash
• September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia
• June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD
• April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on
• April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!
• April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing
• April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops
• April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up
• December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop
• December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)
• December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing
• November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts
• November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records
• August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP
• June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store
• June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only
• June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts
• June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery
• May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity
• March 22, 2007 - NARM Awards - Almighty Retail Named NARM Related Supplier Finalist For Third Consecutive Year
• March 16, 2007 - Chortler - Shout! Factory Has Revamped Its Website
• March 9, 2007 - PhillyBurbs.com - Internet killed the record store?
• March 4, 2007 - Sacramento Bee - New groove for Solomon
• February 28, 2007 - USA Today - Exclusives aim to pull music fans into stores
• February 28, 2007 - New York Newsday - Latin record shops thrive despite changes in music business
• February 23, 2007 - Montpelier Bridge - Buch Spieler Sails On Despite a Music Industry Decline
• November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule
• October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive
• October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores
• October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower
• October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels
• September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline
• September 22, 2006 - CNN.com - Indie stores confront a new era
• September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks
• August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores
• August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future
• July 16, 2006 - New York Times - The Graying of the Record Store
• July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts
• July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"
• July 5, 2006 - Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader - Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times
• June 6, 2006 - Billboard - NARM Nominations Announced
• May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove
• March 18, 2006 - Billboard - Indies in a bind
• January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs
• January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out
• December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop
• December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up
• October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert
• September 12, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune - Twilight for Starbound Records
• August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital
• July 2005 - Rolling Stone - Record Biz Still Sinking
• June 18, 2005 - Billboard - NARM Noms Announced
• March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter
• February 16, 2005 - MSN - Genius Loves Company
• October 12, 2004 - Rolling Stone - Wal-Mart wants $10 CDs
• July 10, 2004 - Billboard - Almighty Institute To The Rescue
• January 14, 2004 - Creative Loafing Charlotte - Manifest Destiny
• December 29, 2003 - New York Times - on the rise of mass marketers
• November 13, 2003 - Rolling Stone - Best Buy snags rights to band's new DVD
• October 9, 2003 - USA Today - Best Buy wins sales rights to Rolling Stones DVD box set
• October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers
• May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track
• May 9, 2003 - Hits - Rerap