Of all the major musical comebacks of 2008 (Guns N’ Roses, Erykah Badu, pseudo-sapphism), the most surprising was the return of record stores—many of which are thriving in spite of the corkscrewing economy. Two keys to their success: Start buying up bandwidth (indie wonderland Other Music has a thriving digital store). And forget the little-bit-of-everything approach and find a speciality—as in, cater to fanatics. “People sit on crates for hours and sort through records,” says Anthony Cascella of Breakdown Records, one of our top twelve destinations.
ACADEMY RECORDS & CDS
The Vibe: Cramped and low on ambience, but friendly. Rock critics unload their promos here—which is why it’s possible to find brand-new releases in the used bin.
The Crowd: Music nerds selling off their discards, then spending $60 on out-of-print Pere Ubu boxed sets. Gray-haired Chopin fiends looking for the perfect rondo.
Sample Bargain: An extensive collection of Gilbert and Sullivan LPs for $5 a pop. 12 W. 18 St.; 212-242-3000.
SECOND HAND ROSE MUSIC
The Vibe: This cramped but orderly Village staple has discounted-vinyl bins outside, rarities inside, and mint-condition classics just about everywhere. The picture-disc section alone demands hours.
Specializes In: Lots of eighties rock, soul, and jazz.
You Might Find: A fan-club-only Pearl Jam 45; David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, complete with fan-club applications. 48 E. 12th St.; 212-675-3735.
The Vibe: Like a secret club (the blinds in front are generally pulled down, making it easy to miss).
Specializes In: Loud, caustic music unknown to 99 percent of the world.
The Crowd: Knows his Celtic Frost from his Cult of Daath. Black-metal fans from around the globe come in search of limited-edition cassettes and elaborately packaged vinyl records (sandwiched between glass, in a concrete block, even wrapped in human hair—the packaging is as extreme as the music). 60 E. 3rd St.; hospitalproductions.com.
The Vibe: This crowded shop in Harlem’s Little Dakar neighborhood may sell luggage out front, but inside you’ll find a wall’s worth of West African CDs, all priced at two for $5. (Just don’t ask why most of the discs come with suspiciously chintzy liner inserts and handwritten titles.)
You Might Find: Mbalakh Alay, a series of store-curated mix CDs; just about everything by Fela Kuti and Youssou N’Dour. 241 W. 116th St.; no phone.
The Vibe: Bass-heavy. Despite fears that digital D.J.-ing equipment would kill the big twelve-inch, Turntable stocks not only mixers and headphones, but rows of vinyl from club-approved labels like DFA and Italians Do It Better.
You Might Find: Double-vinyl pressing of the Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde; a boxed-set edition of Portishead’s Third. 120 E. 7th St.; 212-677-0675.
The Vibe: With its security guards and oversize Enrique Iglesias posters, it’s easy to mistake J&R for another soulless big-box retailer. But pop-rock and world-music oddities abound: imported boxed sets, 180-gram vinyl reissues, and dramatically marked-down catalogue titles.
The Crowd: Looking for Leona Lewis, but might go crazy and buy some Colbie Caillat.
You Might Find: AC/DC’s Black Ice (on vinyl); every Warner Bros.–era Prince album, priced at $6.99 apiece. 23 Park Row; 212-238-9000.
The Vibe: Long before there was Pitchfork, there was this record store/indie divining rod, made famous not only for its early-adapter foresight (they were among the first retailers to champion LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, and Sufjan Stevens) but its carefully administered experimental, world music, and krautrock sections.
The Crowd: Played with the Melvins between 1993 and 1995.
You Might Find: The must-own import Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria; rare glam-rock collections; Ric Ocasek (spotted in the Reggae/Dub section). 15 E. 4th St.; 212-477-8150.
The Vibe: One of the oldest, most venerable reggae sources in the country. Employees spin dance-hall and dub records on turntables, while customers rifle through marked-down 45s and imported vinyl from labels like Greensleeves and Studio One.
You Might Find: A near-complete collection of multivolume anthology series Strictly the Best. You’ll definitely find an entire “in memoriam” section dedicated to Caribbean soca pioneer Byron Lee, who died last month. 170-21 Jamaica Ave., Jamaica; 718-297-5802.
The Vibe: You’ll have to take the LIRR (or a car service) to get to this used-vinyl depot, but it’s worth the schlep: Boxes of classic-rock and soul records—all for $2—and the aging classic-rock posters are a reminder of a time when record stores were a place to hang out and argue about Led Zeppelin’s Coda.
The Crowd: “It’s a digger’s place,” says co-owner Anthony Cascella, who started the store with 2,000 of his own records. So he understands obsession.
You Might Find: A copy of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, complete with fan-made liner notes. 48-09 Bell Blvd., Bayside; 718-279-0040.