Although it might seem counterintuitive to establish a new business at the tail end (hopefully) of a global pandemic, the venture seems to be paying off for 30-year-old Adrian Rew, the founder and owner of record store Ergot.
"The pandemic actually provided me with an opportunity," says the store owner over the phone. "Rent was cheaper and people have been spending more time at home, therefore treasuring their music collections more. I also think that, more than ever, people crave the intimacy of the physical object."
Ergot, which opened less than two months ago on East 2nd Street and Second Avenue, is the evolution of Rew's eponymous music label. The entrepreneur, who graduated from Oberlin College a few years back, received a grant from the school to start a label. After working in a record store and at a non-profit, he decided to strike out on his own and set up a brick-and-mortar. He took over the space that was previously occupied by a catering business forced to close given pandemic-related issues. Although the cheap rent was a clearly a draw, Rew was banking on humans craving the sort of experience he was offering.
"When I was working remotely throughout the pandemic, I really had to make a concerted effort to delineate between the work week and the rest of my time," he reminisces. "So I think people are eager to listen to music without having to look at their phones or computers."
A mere walk through Rew's store spurs the sort of calm and peace that he hopes the records he sells could also provide. Ergot is a minimally decorated, clean-looking space that fits right into the neighborhood. Countless vinyls are available for browsing, with an entire wall displaying some noteworthy picks, from Faction by Réseau D'Ombres to Bill Orcutt's A Mechanical Joey and DMX's second album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.
Although clearly carrying a variety of genres—disco! Latin! Gospel! Pop! Experimental!—Rew reveals that New Yorkers are currently gravitating towards jazz and new wave. "I think that there is a reason why jazz is called America's classical music," he says by way of explanation. "I think it is one of the greatest cultural contributions from our country and people are continuing to appreciate that." As for the interest in new wave, the expert posits that the current 20-something buyers he meets enjoy the sort of music that their own parents listened to when they were their age back in the 1980s.
Speaking of the '80s, Rew is very candid about the business he is in, acknowledging that even if the pandemic wasn't a factor to consider, folks' relationships to vinyl in the age of all things digital has been a delicate one.
"As far as vinyl goes, I think that the more unusual, rarer records will get increasingly expensive," he explains. "But I think we have about 20 years tops left for the generation of people who actually bought this stuff when it first came out to get rid of their collections. Then everything will be very different." He predicts that, once we get to that stage, "casual music fans" will no longer be holding the majority of records—collectors will. "So, from a record store standpoint, it is possible they are just going to trade hands between collectors more directly, but I'm optimistic," he says hopefully.
He does also mention that the rise in prices of vinyl is something to consider. The increase in costs, explains Rew, has to do with inflation and mainly affects the "rarer" records (which he says account for 20% of the industry). "We're basically coming to a consensus on what is valuable and everything else is getting cheaper," he explains. As for new records, although more are being made, they are being produced in smaller editions and are therefore more costly.
Despite all these factors, New Yorkers are flocking to the new record store, which Rew hopes to turn into a community space that can also play host to readings, DJ sets, debut parties and small performances.
"What I really want to do is have a space for the community immediately surrounding me and the broader New York community, for people who love music from different backgrounds to come together and learn something and meet others," he says. "It's as simple as that."
And, lest we forget, a big part of the industry is directly related to pre-owned media and the ability of folks like Rew to buy collections—so feel free to reach out to him if you're looking to sell something. "I'm always on the lookout!," he says. "I am happy to make house calls to evaluate the records of any potential sellers."