Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ye Olde Record Shoppe: New York 1

With the advent of the Internet and the option of digital downloads and online CD purchases, the world of music has seen a significant change in the physical landscape of music sales, particularly where record shops--retail on-the-street establishments specializing exclusively in the sale of pre-recorded discs--are concerned. It has probably been two or three years since I last purchased a recording in a store here in Washington; since the closing of Tower Records (the Wikipedia article on the chain has the caveat "This article's factual accuracy is disputed") here in Washington in 2006, I have used the Internet as the avenue for all my U.S. purchases of new CDs, as well as out-of-print items--for which I have used eBay. Accordingly, I had assumed that the number of U.S. stores specializings in the U.S. had been drastically reduced.

Still, the lost world of actual record shops came flooding into my memory this morning as I was cleaning out my files while I am parked in my temporary office, and came across a folder of old business cards, including one for the Gryphon Record Shop, an establishment on the upper west side of New York City that I used to patronize frequently in the 80's and 90's in search of old and rare items.

Upon calling the number on the card, I was pleased to find that the store still exists, now under the name Westsider Records. Click here for their Website, whose photographs (two included here with permission) filled me with nostalgia for the old days when it was possible to walk into a store, browse at length through the extensive stock, and perhaps buy some joyfully discovered treasure. The store--managed under several owners (most often in combination with the Gryphon Bookshop on Broadway, now also Westsider Books) by Raymond Donnell, a man of great musical knowledge who died in 2008--continues to stock a vast selection of out-of-print long-playing records, as well as more recent CDs. (For those coming of age in the era of the digital CD, or Compact Disc, analog records in the 12" 33 1/3 rpm long-playing format pressed on vinyl were the dominant medium for serious music from the mid-50s into the 90's, and are still considered by most audiophiles to be of superior quality in the "warmth" and "presence" of their sound.)

Another card in the bundle announced the opening of G&A Rare Records, also on 72nd Street: "Gary Allabach, former manager of Gryphon Records and Jerry Gladstein, anounce the opening of an unusual shop for the purchase and sale of LP vinyl records--collections from 10 to 100,000 wanted." A call to the number on the card produced an out-of-service announcement, and a Google search led to a New York Daily News article noting that Allabach, "whose knowledge of records was encyclopedic," died in 1998. Discovering the demise of this store further reinforced my impression of the recent decline of record stores.

I again turned to Google to search to determine the number and diversity of actual record shops in New York City, to test my impression that times have been hard on the retail store. One of the first sites that I found was a 1997 entry on the Website of the Archive for Contemporary Music, (of which more in a subsequent post) which lists dozens of local New York record outlets, often combined with the sale of other products, particularly books. (When you open the Web page, the print is nearly illegible with black type on a dark purple background; but all you need to do to read it easily is highlight the entire page, and it appears as black on a lighter blue.) The witty and erudite annotations are obviously made by ARCMusic's colorful founder, Bob George:

"Horrible pressings, terrific music." "Where does he get his stuff? All the CDs, used or new, are (re)shrinkwrapped. This place has a slightly sleazy feel, albeit homey and harmless." "An odds-bodkin World section that can easily sprout something great for under $6." His listings are certainly comprehensive. For Chinatown: "Stores too numerous to mention. Walk through the ever-expanding Chinatown. . . . (slowly evolving into Thai-Town), jam-packed with video and CD/cassette stores that carry lots of teen Canto-pop with the occasional political Cui Jian or metallic-lite Tang Dynasty album. Gone are the days of Revolutionary People's Opera 102 records."

While George lists 135 record outlets (again, not all exclusively devoted to music sales), a presumably up-to-date listing on www.citidex.com broken down into "Music Megastores and Music Store Chains (15); Music Stores (49); Specialty Music Stores (Jazz, Classical, Ethnic) (24); Jazz/Blues/Reggae/Country (1); LP's and Vinyl Records (20); and Websites (4)"--for a total of 113 stores, with many overlaps with George's list 13 years earlier.

In any case, it seems clear that, at least in New York City, the record shop is not an endangered species. I don't have the time to confirm that all the listings in Citidex are current, but the prospects are extensive enough to re-awaken my decades-old itch to collect . . . .

But more of that in later entries.

1 comment:

John said...

Great article on something that will not be replaced by blogs or customer ratings on Amazon. It was accidentally overhearing someone's observation on a record or an artist or composer one had never heard of. Or it was the record playing over the loudspeakers in the store. It was a community, and long live NY! Thanks for doing all the research!