As Record Store Day Returns, Where Can Classical Buyers Shop?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Academy Records on W. 18th Street in Manhattan Academy Records on W. 18th Street in Manhattan (Kim Clancy)

Last week, J&R unceremoniously closed its store in Lower Manhattan after 43 years in business. The iconic electronics and music retailer is vowing to reopen “totally reimagined and redeveloped.” But for now at least, it has gone the way of Tower Records, HMV, Virgin Megastore, Sam Goody and other brick-and-mortar shops that used to make New York City a music superstore haven.

Steve Smith, a freelance music critic for the New York Times, believes that online shops have filled much of the void, but the communal aspect of record-buying has largely gone by the wayside.

"What's really missing now is the social element of shopping for CDs,” he tells Naomi Lewin in this week's podcast. “That's a very real thing. If you went to a show any given night at Lincoln Center, you could tell whether it was a success or not by going over to the Lincoln Center Tower Records afterwards and see how many people were hovering around the bins in the classical section."

Saturday is Record Store Day, an annual retail promotion started in 2008 to help struggling independent stores. The event’s organizers – a consortium of independent stores and trade groups – hope that it can trumpet the benefits of stores where opinionated clerks give advice and point you to special deals.

As in past years, this Saturday’s event brings collectible rarities and limited-edition pressings to serve as draws for shoppers at some 1,200 stores around the country.  

“Record stores don't sell food, they don't sell water, and things you need to live,” said Record Store Day co-founder Carrie Colliton. “But there's something that makes life a lot better when you love it. I think it's best to have a physical place for human interaction."

Colliton isn’t discouraged by J&R's closing, or of Rizzoli's plans to leave its longtime 57th Street location (the bookstore carried a small selection of music). “Of course it's tough,” she said of the real estate environment. “And the larger you are in a more expensive city, the more difficult that can be, no matter what it is that you sell inside the store.”

So where does Smith suggest shoppers go to find classical music? For used product, Academy Records satisfies the urge to “get carried away by the experience of flipping through CDs." There are small but select offerings at the Met Opera Shop and the Juilliard Bookstore. And if you’re not too picky, the Barnes and Noble locations on East 86th Street and in Union Square in Manhattan still have modest selections. For deeper tastes?

"Arkivmusic.com caters to a clerk-like mentality,” said Smith (disclosure: Arkivmusic has a retail partnership with WQXR). But often, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are the best places to seek advice on recordings, something you can't find as much on iTunes. "I think you are looking at a scenario that's split in two, where you get your advice in one place and then you go shop in another place."

Listen to the full podcast above and subscribe to Conducting Business on iTunes. And tell us below: where do you go most often to buy recordings?

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Comments [37]

G. Money from ct

Only one real record store left in ct, or the only good one is Oldies & Goodies in Meriden, Ct.. Give a call 203 317 0677. Great selection and great prices.

Jun. 18 2014 11:08 PM
Leonardi Leon from Miami, FL

As to what that man Sid said; with just the click of a button, you can own
Herbert Von Karajan and the Staatskapelle Dresden doing Shostakovich's 10th Symphony and you can keep it for as long as you want.

Apr. 24 2014 05:00 PM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Correction- there must be over 120 all Hovhaness recordings (not counting all the vinyl on AH's Poseidon records etc.) as I just checked my shelves and I have 58 discs there, and I have at least 35 more packed away since I moved.
Wqxr too barely programs AH; Mysterious Mountain occasionally as well As "And God Created Great Whales", although the latter I have heard on Wqxr but twice over the years. How about "The Prayer of St. Gregory"?? It blows my mind that his short magnificent piece for Trumpet and Strings is never on the air (or part of a concert!!); IMO it is at the very least as great as Barber's Adagio- a piece that is played everywhere. Or Sym 6 "Celestial Gate", which appears on cd I believe in 8 recordings- an achingly beautiful Symphony, and as accessible as symphonic music comes! Every listener out there should at least know these 4 works I mentioned-as well as countless more but sadly many still do not do not. AH's music has enriched my life and indeed saved my life a few times!! Local shops should have a taste, and there's still some tiny stores in towns across the country- however one would have to live there or somehow know of it!

Apr. 23 2014 09:31 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

@ DuckD

Hovhaness is not programmed that much in concert halls, which has always perplexed me as he is one of
the greatest American composers of the 20th century; Sym 2 "Mysterious Mountain" one of his masterpieces is not performed really, occasionally by obscure local orchs one never hears about or in colleges! it's further perplexing as record companies have done
him proud for many years now (Crystal, Delos, Telarc, Koch, more recently Naxos, and many others). It's
easy to find AH recordings, not hard at all; again Amazon is a great source, or Crystal records where one can
buy their large AH catalog- some of the most important recordings are on Crystal, w many conducted by
Hovhaness himself. The records stores that are left typically will have some AH discs, but that's not much
considering there are over 60 all Hovhaness discs. Happily I bought everything early on as AH is one of my
fav composers. Amram I'm not huge on however again one can go the soulless route and buy on the 'net.
One of my greatest joys was meeting Lou Harrison @ at the 92nd St Y years ago at his 75th birthday concert;
another great composer whose music can be easily bought online but yes- finding much in stores will not happen.

Apr. 23 2014 09:07 AM

@ Al,

Have you tried American? Copland? And I don't mean just "Rodeo" and "Appalachian Spring." "Music for the Theater?" "Clarinet Concerto?"

Hovhaness? Amram? (He'll be at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts this weekend. And early next week.)

Still, hard to find their recordings out there.

DD~~

Apr. 22 2014 11:16 PM
Al Luna from Bronx, NY

If the classical music and opera worlds cannot engage a younger audience, it will never survive! I'm done buying Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Faure, you get the idea. Besides some early Russians and baroque stuff, and the Norwegians that Chandos is putting out, I'm done buying. Someone wrote "how many versions do you want?" Although I bought Rattle's Brahms symphonies, I still prefer Karajan, so I'm not buying Chialli's. Is this part of the problem?

Apr. 22 2014 04:09 PM
Eddie Jones

My iPad's battery died during my first post. I worked at Sam Goody in Yonkers, NY for ten years in the 70's - the last five years as Assistant Manager to the Manager of the Classical department when everything was on glorious vinyl. Gino, my boss, gave me my very first Classical record. It was George Szell performing Wagner with the Cleveland Orchestra - double disc music only - no longer available and never released as a double CD. I learned a great deal from Gino and the regular customers. I loved talking, hearing, and mingling with people that nurtured my newfound passion. While all of my friends were listening to Hard Rock I was listening to Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, etc. WQXR was my radio station of choice. After college I worked in NYC as a CPA and discovered tons of record stores. When CD hit big I discovered Tower Records in NYC which became a frequent stop for me and I became friends with the staff and on three different occasions was invited to different patrons apartments to check out their audiophile system and listen to our purchases drinking wine and eating pizza.
I miss the great people I would meet in record stores. I have a deep nostalgia for record stores. Now, I do my purchasing at arkive

Apr. 22 2014 01:45 PM
Eddie Jones

I live in New Rochelle, NY and there is a Barnes & Noble in Yonkers that has a dismal Classical Music section offered on CD.
I subscribe to Gramophone, BBC Music, PIANIST, Stereophile, and The Absolute Sound magazines for the Classical CD & SACD reviews. Barnes and Noble never, and I repeat never, have any of the top reviewed CD's in stock.

Apr. 22 2014 12:36 PM
Eileen from New York, NY

did everyone forget about the 2 stores at the Met. Pretty good selection considering everything else is failing - and it's just fun to be there!

Apr. 22 2014 12:17 PM

Record stores always added a place in which one could find like minded people and discuss music and even current events. I always liked going to Record World in Jackson Heights while I was in high school. Classical music, pop, folk, jazz, rock always being played. I always felt I was among future artists and that this environment was part of the nurturing process of our education maybe where the tires hit the road and a dream was born. We would carry out an LP, tape, or CD and it would contain our dreams of the future. Usually the next day in home room a few of us would huddle together to talk about the latest record album. I recalled being lucky to be assigned to a music appreciation class where we were allowed once a week to bring in recordings of artists and share our thoughts. I realized the overlap influence of classical music with the other formats.
Would there have ever been talents like the rock group "Chicago", "Blood, Sweat, and Tears" and the like without the realm of classical music. Look at Cole Porter, and Gershwin.

Apr. 22 2014 12:08 PM
Lindsay Koob from Charleston, SC

An "ex-classical clerk's view": Until the it went under nearly five years ago, I was the classical director at the Millennium Music store in Charleston, SC, where I managed what was probably the biggest and most comprehensive classical CD selection in the Southeast (at one point, over 20,000 titles). Also, my classical room doubled as a performance venue, with a decent grand piano parked in the corner -- I ran a weekly "Sunday Spotlight" concert series there, where serious musicians of any ilk (students, amateurs and professionals) could come and perform for a small and informal, but appreciative crowd. Several prominent NYC-based musicians performed there -- in, for example, "preview" events in advance of performances for Charleston's Spoleto USA Festival. It was a cherished and well-populated meeting place for classical fans, and the only place in town where folks could count on good advice and recommendations on any genre of classical music and the best recordings, as dispensed mostly by yours truly. As Mr. Smith said above, it was the social element that made it special -- on top of endless browsing possibilities. When the depredations of the internet forced us to close the store, it seemed the end of an era. I grieve, even now, for my old store -- I've never enjoyed a job so much.
Now, being a full-time freelance classical journalist, with prominent record labels (like Delos) among my clients, I am gaining disturbing insights into related developments -- namely the precipitous decline of the CD as a viable commercial commodity. Smaller independent labels are going under in droves -- or seeking refuge under the banners of mega-labels like Naxos. In some countries (even in Europe and Asia), up to 70% of classical fans are getting their music via downloads or streaming. Physical CD Sales -- even online -- are constantly falling to new lows, such that most labels can hardly afford production costs any more, and are having to ask the recording artists themselves to help foot ever-increasing percentages of overall expenses. My worry is thus not so much the declining numbers of brick-and-mortar CD stores, but whether there will be enough physical CDs in the not-so-distant future to stock them with. I don't believe the CD will ever die out completely -- but (like LPs) it's likely to become the province of an ever-shrinking base of geeky collectors. And you can't sell digital downloads or streaming services in a brick-and-mortar store. I therefore fear the day will come when the good, old-fashioned CD store will become totally extinct -- everywhere.

Apr. 22 2014 10:59 AM
Al Luna from Bronx, NY.

Went to Juilliard store! Excellent. They should advertise that they aren't just for students and faculty. The other thing, get ready to spend some floor time since most of their cd inventory is stocked very low. But it's great to have everything (cd's, books, scores, dvd's) in one store. *****
Question: Any good CD stores lower CT, Westchester, Yonkers areas?

Apr. 21 2014 11:57 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Oops 1 mistake- the outlet in Berkshire also carries Jazz and Blues, I doubt anyone will mind! Also for the heck of it I just searched by label(they have almost 1,000 listed), Naxos to be exact and there are 735 Naxos cds, most $2.99-3.99! Not bad..

Apr. 20 2014 04:25 PM
Jared from Greenwich CT

I should add that there are still a few very good "places" (mostly virtual, on the 'net) to find the best recordings. Needless to say Amazon is fantastic, and while the prices are not always one can buy the same cds usually by 3rd party sellers often at a fraction of the price (click on "New and Used" below Amazon's own price and disc info).
Also, Berkshire Record Outlet (all classical!) out of Massachusetts sells 100's and 100's of cds/lps at low prices, mostly out-of-print and cut-out cds not unlike the Tower Clearance store in NY. If you are not going to MA their website is easy to use and search, and I have found the shipping to be prompt and the experience overall pleasant. I don't know if Wqxr allows links posted so just search google for Berkshire Record Outlet. Also the various Kim's Video stores in NYC are decent, not just music but also rare dvds especially world cinema. My fav was on St. Marks however I don't know if it's still there. Around the corner from St. Marks I believe Norman's Sound & Vision is still there; the classical section isn't huge but they always had good prices and I found great avant-garde discs there too at good prices (Zorn's Tzadik label for instance). There's more but I don't want to tire anyone's eyes!

Apr. 20 2014 04:14 PM
Jared from Greenwich CT

I miss the days of physically shopping for cds and browsing for hours so very much I cannot even put it into sufficient language; truly it was one of my favorite things to do (admittedly I always spent much more than I should have...telling myself to stop after 3 or 4 discs and then finding myself with a stack of 10-15, especially with all the bargains-earlier Naxos recordings, Discovery, Arte Nova etc. were often very fine and easy to justify buying alongside expensive Chandos, Hyperion and endless other record labels!) and always an "adventure" for me. Nothing was more cathartic except listening to all of the sonic treasures once returning from the hunt! Indeed I am and was a very serious collector. Buying online is a rather soulless, unsatisfying experience although there is at least the sweet anticipation of getting the items carefully boxed and delivered to one's mailbox. -The absolute best places to lose oneself for hours, in my opinion was Tower records in NYC. The store on East 4th St and Broadway was a dream, however the Tower Clearance Outlet right off of Great Jones nearby was paradise found!! The prices were incredible, with 100's and 100's of out-of-print and cut-out cds, and always rare hard to find recordings as well. I went alone or went with my father for years, it was a true ritual of the highest order, one for the heart and soul. I for one will continue to buy "proper" physical recordings until I am a bag of bones!!

Apr. 20 2014 03:53 PM
Fred from Queens

The record industry is probably as guilty for the demise of retail stores as are the decline in audience and exorbitant rent. Ten or more years ago, CDs were already in the $15 to $20 range at retail stores. Furthermore, noisy mono recordings by virtuosi long dead were typically $12 to $15.

One of the reasons well run stores like Academy Records can survive is because prices are much more reasonable for CDs that generally play like new.

Apr. 20 2014 02:59 PM
Alan Levine from Long Island

In addition to Arkiv, there is also HBDirect.com, which has an extensive CD selection

Apr. 20 2014 09:47 AM
Mr. Mike from Hilo, Hawai`i

I have had good luck on eBay finding CDs. Another possibility is alibris.com/music.

Apr. 19 2014 03:58 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

My son would purchase cds and dvds from Tower for me and he said there was a cool old German lady who would advise him of the great stuff they had. She really knew her music.

Apr. 19 2014 01:48 PM
blake lindberg from marine park

I also recommend Academy Records and CDs on 18th street in NYC. They have an incredible array of classical vinyl and cds as well as other types of music (both new and used but mostly second-hand). They also buy cds, lps and movies for cash or trade.

Apr. 19 2014 07:01 AM
Margaret from Park Slope

"Arkivmusic.com caters to a clerk-like mentality". What does that even mean?

Apr. 18 2014 09:36 PM
Brunnhilde from NYC

As a musician, NY has become just another city....not the specialty city it once was to me. To buy printed music - forget it! ....Schirmer's is no longer; Patelson's is no longer...along with the expertise and camaraderie one developed with staff. Juilliard seems to be the only location to buy - hands on music. Tower, Virgin, and the little wonderful stores like "Grand Prix" on Broadway and 84th Street, (years ago) and a place on 8th Avenue that didn't even have a name but the guy who owned it had every record you would ever want and knew the history of them and the performers as well...and then there was the Discophile on 8th Street in the village....how about Sam Goody....I can go on, and on! Oh, Nonesuch...what a treat with their record covers and information....if it looked interesting and you knew nothing about it, all you had to do was talk to someone and they usually knew everything about the recording and it was cheap enough to buy and experiment in listening. Now a days, I buy like most everyone else - Arkiv and Amazon and GEM in England. I long for those wonderful days of yore!! You bet I'd support a new store in NY... I'm sure it would bring back that knowledge, availability and friendships.

Apr. 18 2014 01:01 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Before I became disabled, would love to browse in record and book stores. Now I buy what I need online but it is not the same. Now that I buy online, I get bombarded by e mails to buy this and that. I also like Mom and Pop stores where you actually know the people you buy from. till have a few of those in my neighborhood and occasionally am able to shop. The pharmacy I buy from is only two blocks away and he is like family. But everything changes and not always for the better. Forgive the nostalgia on my part. Nostalgia: From the Greek, pain from an old wound.

Apr. 18 2014 10:58 AM
Art Leonard from NYC

I really miss the days when one could browse at leisure through the huge classical offerings at Tower, HMV, Record Hunter, the oldtime J&R, etc. These days I do use ArkivMusic, but also CDUniverse (which sometimes has lower prices) and, of course, Amazon, usually from their cooperating merchants. But I read Gramophone, BBC Music, Classical Record Quarterly and International Piano (all from the UK) which sometimes extol recordings on European labels that aren't directly available from the US websites. My go-to place for those is Presto Classical, a UK website that has nice prices for direct shipments to the US and frequent label and new issue specials. mdf.co.uk is good, but I find Presto Classical's search engine more user-friendly, and their service is first-rate. But, ah, to browse again!

Apr. 18 2014 10:57 AM
Jeremy C. Nagel from Lansing, Michigan

I fondly, wistfully recall the good ol' days when Michigan (that's right) boasted THREE brick+mortar classical shops. One by one they closed, and now not even nearby Chicago offers much. I use Archivmusic.com a lot -- their drill-down menus are indispensable -- but often find better prices from Amazon's secondary sellers. That said, in recent years I've completely rediscovered the joy of music *shopping* by focusing on used classical [vinyl] records. Once you find a shop with a decent collection, it's off to the races. The records are invariably in pristine condition, prices are normally more than fair, and the variety/selection is astonishing because there are TONS of great recordings that never made the leap to CD. One downside is that you're often rubbing shoulders with a particularly annoying faction of the hipster set -- kids out as much to impress each other with their coolness quotient as they are to shop for music. (I know; I used to be one of them.) If you can tune them out (and the din from the store sound system) there are treasures awaiting you. Join the fun, but for heaven's sake NOT on Record Store Day, when the aforementioned hipster set is most active. I honestly can't overstate the joy; I now hunt out record shops to visit when I travel for work, and invariably come home with my carry-on stuffed with loads of new-to-me musical treasures. You can't beat the value, the experience, the selection, and the *tactile* component exclusive to LPs -- something CDs never matched.

Apr. 18 2014 09:41 AM
Bruce Pribram from Brooklyn

I've shopped Arkiv Music for the past few years. I check for reviews prior to purchase, most often Classics Today, whose writing is uncluttered, and that I usually find matching my own taste. I should add, I'm not an expert, somewhat past being an enthusiast or fanboy, but like being informed. But I do miss J&R and the Tower Records stores. (I even remember the original Tower in Sacramento ... ) The browsing is what I miss most, and the occasional interaction with an informed sales person. I hope J&R figures out a constructive way of merchandising music.

Apr. 18 2014 09:00 AM
Mat Dirjish from NYC

Buying on line and sucking free content off the usual array of websites is convenient and cheap, if not devoid of charges or responsibilities. However, one great aspect of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store for art, be it recordings, musical instruments, books, graphics, etc., is social intercourse. I usually end up meeting one or more people with a love for the same mediums, if not the same tastes, as I. Conversations ensue -face-to-face and not through a keyboard - and knowledge and insights are gained. Most importantly, friendships and more are made. Maybe not everyone enjoys this interaction, but it certainly hurts no one.

Apr. 18 2014 08:39 AM
Sid from Brooklyn

A decent pair of headphones plugged in to my I-Pad and and positioned for U-Tube and I get all the music I want with the best orchs, conductors and artists. Who needs the expensive CD's?

Apr. 18 2014 08:00 AM
ELIZABETH RONIS from N.Y.

I also sorely miss Tower records, both locations. I buy from Arkiv but it is not as much fun. The atmosphere is lacing. Does not leave one with the sense of possibilities and exhileration that one gets from a brick and mortar store.

Apr. 17 2014 10:00 PM
Ian from Chelsea (NYC)

I like Barry Lyons' suggestion to Alec Baldwin. Not a likely scenario, I'm afraid, but I've also fantasized about opening a new classical music store near Lincoln Center. If well positioned and carefully managed, I think such a shop could succeed (as Mr. Lyons suggests, performances could be a big draw, as they are for rock-oriented stores like Other Music).
There are other shops one can go in NYC, believe it or not. Mercer St. Books has a small (used) classical selection, as do several of the used record stores in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn (including Other Music, by the way). Not to be forgotten is Westsider Records on West 72nd St, just off Broadway. This is also a used record store with a very large classical selection, though not nearly as user-friendly as Academy. If Westsider was managed better and had better prices (and if it had a bit more space), it could give Academy some competition.
Also - if you're willing to take the hour trip down to Princeton Record Exchange, that store is probably the best for classical music anywhere on the east coast (it's also cheaper than Academy - lower rents, I imagine).

Apr. 17 2014 09:16 PM
Mark Lester from San Diego, CA

I visit Academy Records whenever I'm in NYC, and sorely miss the Tower Records stores both there and closer to my home. I order from Arkivmusic.com as well as Amazon (for speedy delivery), but also use several online vendors in the UK, including MDT Classics. Prices on certain UK labels are cheaper (even with shipping) from dealers across the pond than from UK online retailers. There are virtually no classical specialist shops where I live in San Diego.

Apr. 17 2014 08:15 PM
Barry Lyons from New York City

Yes, Academy Records is now the best place to buy CDs in New York City, at least used ones. But if I want something from one of the more "esoteric" labels (i.e., not Sony, DG, Decca, etc.), I go to Amazon.
I know it wouldn't be a huge money maker, but I wish some multimillionaire classical nut like me (well, not the multimillionaire part) would finance the opening of a store that would sell thousands of items from all the big labels AND Chandos, Hyperion, Bis, ECM, Brilliant Classics, and so on.
Mr. Baldwin, are you reading this? I was part of the team that worked in the classical department at HMV on the east side in the 1990s, and I'd gladly work in such a store again. Think about it, Alec. We could even have a small stage for chamber performances that could feature local or up-and-coming musicians. Who's up for financing this? Are you? I await your call.

Apr. 17 2014 07:59 PM
Elizabeth Gerhardt from Panama

Thanks for the heads up on Arkivmusic.com. I live in a very small town in a foreign country so I get products from ebooks to poultry shears from Amazon. This includes CDs of music I heard on WQXR and can't live without. Reviews and used CDs in good condition help with choice and the budget.

Apr. 17 2014 07:44 PM
Nancy Tooney from Brooklyn, NY

Bricks and mortar shops are important!
I'll always be deeply grateful to a guy at the branch of the Harvard Coop at the Medical School in the '60's for guiding me to Nonesuch Records, among other vinyl labels. On a modest income I was able to build a solid foundation of classical music recordings. I still have most of them and I still listen to vinyl.

Apr. 17 2014 07:21 PM
carol winer from New York City

Academy is my go-to place. Used to buy out of print books in original store. Then they added CDs. They evolved to eliminating books and becoming a CD and DVD place and also have vinyl. Very knowledgeable staff and interesting customers. Great classical and jazz repertoire.

Apr. 17 2014 07:19 PM
Lynn David from Jersey Shore

We still have a pretty good music shop in the town where I live...It's been there since I was a kid and it's a great place to flip thru the CD's and hear them click as you flip them and then pick one to take home in a paper bag. But for a wonderful, extensive selection of classical I always go to Arkiv.com and sometimes hit Amazon.com for the reviews.
Times are changing...but the most important thing is to support classical music recording or live or on radio or however you can...this Grandma does.

Apr. 17 2014 07:09 PM
arthur elkind from new Rochelle

I found this e-mail very interesting and I can agree 100% with the need for record stores and bookstores. New York has changed much more than Euoropean Cities. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin can satisfy the quest for unusual records and books. Discussing an artist(musical and art) can be satisfying and benefit the novice or the expert. Facebook, twitter, etc. are poor substitutes. I and others yearn for the past where personal interaction is a learning experience. One wish is that I could find a source of fresh 33&1/3 vinyl records. The sound on the vinyl record is often stunning. Art books stores in London are wonderful sources of current and old titles, a rel find.

Apr. 17 2014 06:22 PM

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