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.
The Vibe: A small storefront catering to fans of indie music, with the most obscure (as in expensive) stuff on the walls. The store managers are super-helpful and ready to dissect Grizzly Bear or discuss indie-band minutiae.
The Crowd: Typically Williamsburg.
You Might Find: Forever Came Today, the rare 1982 punk album by the Flesh Eaters, or an electronica album by enigmatic Dutch/German musician Rolan Kayn, both for a price ($60 and $125, respectively—but there’s lots of cheaper stuff). 218 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg; 718-486-3771.
The Vibe: Spare and loud.
Specializes In: Bargains—though don’t get stuck at the semiregular “free” bin in front; there’s a $1 bin inside. The vinyl collection is curated by owner Marjorie Eisenberg, who brings in new stock every week. The rock and jazz sections are well represented, and if you’re in the market for a record player, the store carries those too. “If you have twenty bucks, you can get a lot of stuff,” says Eisenberg.
You Might Find: A very rare live Beatles radio show for $100. 181 Franklin St., Greenpoint; 718-383-4083.
The Vibe: Eccentric. Not so much a store for music connoisseurs as a place for music fans who love to eat. A tiny sliver of a storefront on a mostly residential street in Greenpoint, the place is organized like its name: food up front (the organic grass-fed-beef chili is particularly good), records in back. (Just stay clear of the waiters while flipping through the overstuffed bins.)
You Might Find: U.K. prog-rock band Egg’s first self-titled album for $24; an original twelve-inch copy of Bronx post-punk band ESG’s “Moody” for $30. 124 Meserole Ave., Greenpoint; 718-389-8083.
Second Hand Rose Music thinks locally, acts globally. “We do a lot of mail order,” says co-owner Shelii Liebman. And what Japanese twentysomething wouldn’t love the above Springsteen 45?
(Photograph by Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine)
One Man’s Noise …
Dominick Fernow started the label Hospital Productions at 16, and manages its East Village store. Both are dedicated to noise music, which is “an acquired taste,” admits Fernow. “Imagine an audio version of a Jackson Pollock painting or a plane crash. The initial reaction is often, ‘This is so crude and brutal.’ But it’s actually more subtle than some traditional music.”
(Illustration by James Taylor)