New York's best record stores (yes, they're still around)
Love real music you can hold in your hands? Check out our pick of the city's top indie shops.
Wed Nov 25 2009
Records! Real ones! In your hands! Yes, even in a recession, vinyl sales continue to rise. And while the big retailers of yesteryear (Tower Records, HMV and Virgin Megastore) may have been consigned to history, indie stores in NYC continue to flourish. To mark this happy fact—and aid you in your quest for whatever rare groove may tickle your fancy—TONY Music presents its guide to the city's best record stores.
96 North 6th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-218-8200)
Located just up the street from the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Academy Records' Brooklyn outpost—the company has two spots in Manhattan, one offering mainly used CDs and the other vinyl—finds its true niche in acts not yet sufficiently well-known to play at the largish neighboring venue. The Annex actively stocks local music, proclaiming on its website, "If you run a local label, or are in a band with material released on vinyl, we'd love to carry it." From Woodsist to the Social Registry, the labels on the current New York scene are well represented. And if you need to fatten your wallet, Academy will buy your old LPs and CDs; just make sure they aren't scratched.—CSJ
87 Guernsey St between Nassau and Norman Aves, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (coop87.org)
A great record store shouldn't feel much different from a great record collection, and by that standard, Co-Op 87 is one of NYC's best. This tiny little wedge of a shop on a cozy Greenpoint street doesn't make the slightest attempt to be completist; instead it offers a smartly curated grab bag of classic rock, jazz and various unclassifiables, along with a choice selection of reissues. (I picked up a few new Sabbath pressings, and made a note to come back for a hot-off-the-press copy of Death's The Sound of Perseverance.) Once you find out that the store is a joint venture between cult-favorite local indie labels Mexican Summer and Captured Tracks, you realize why the store's sense of taste seems so on the money.—HS
Downtown Music Gallery
13 Monroe St between Catherine and Market Sts (212-473-0043)
Many landmarks of the so-called downtown music scene have shuttered in recent years, but as long as DMG persists, the community will have a sturdy anchor. The shop, which relocated from a plum Bowery spot to a Chinatown basement earlier this year, stocks the city's—and perhaps the world's—most impressive selection of avant-garde jazz, contemporary classical, progressive rock and related styles. An entire CD display devoted to John Zorn's Tzadik imprint illustrates the store's die-hard devotion—it's doubtful that even the composer's apartment contains such an encyclopedic array.—HS
15 E 4th St between Broadway and Lafayette St (212-477-8150)
Other Music opened in the shadow of Tower Records in the mid-'90s, a pocket of resistance to corporate music and chain-store tedium. All these years later, the Goliath across the street has been replaced by an empty store; tiny Other Music carries on. Whereas the shop's mishmash of indie rock, experimental music and stray slabs of rock's past once seemed adventurous, the curatorial foundation has proved prescient, surfacing in the Wordless Music Series, (Le) Poisson Rouge and even Pitchfork years after the store's foundation. A word on the employees: The figure of the sneering record-store clerk has become an enduring clich, for which Other Music once served as ground zero. Yet the typecast reached its expiration date years ago—these people are pussycats.—JR
181 Franklin St between Green and Huron Sts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (718-383-4083)
Beyond a broad selection of indie-rock staples and curios, this Greenpoint haven houses an inviting selection of jazz and funk—the store was personally recommended to TONY by the founders of Daptone Records. As well as offering good deals on trade-ins and fairly priced used vinyl and CDs, Permanent Records hosts regular in-store performances (recent highlights include tUnE-YaRdS and Inlets). And crucially, with its wooden floors and cute handmade signs, Permanent Records is a cozy spot—you feel like they actually want you to be there.—SH
And the specialists...
J&R Music World 23 Park Row at Beekman St (212-238-9000)
You can find all the top hits at rock-bottom prices at this slightly fusty downtown institution, where Rod Stewart's Soulbook or similar dross rings up for around 11 clams. And with Borders gone and Barnes & Noble scaling back, J&R effectively is the only game in town for buying new classical recordings.—Steve Smith
Generation Records 210 Thompson St between Bleecker and W 3rd Sts (212-2540-1100)
Extreme-metal fans, hardcore punks and ska enthusiasts are well served by this Village mainstay, which also sells vinyl, used CDs and various collectibles.—SS
Halcyon 57 Pearl St at Water St, Dumbo, Brooklyn (718-260-9299)
This beautiful (and tiny) Dumbo store exudes a Zen-like calm, but the music sold within—largely electronic house and techno—is anything but mellow.—Bruce Tantum