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?