The only genre of music missing in Academy Records is classical.... but not to worry, that is completely covered in their shop on 18th. Otherwise, this shop, here on 12th Street, has an impressive selection of rock, jazz, soul, funk, country, and folk. In chatting with one of the owners, he told us that they are always actively looking for "new" records and are constantly receiving inventory. In addition, they host DJ events.
Sharon’s family was not exactly in the business of music; they were in the business of giving people what they wanted. They emigrated from Israel in the early 1970s with nothing to their names and the hope of making a living and a better life. As electronics were the rage at the time, they opened a consumer electronics shop in 1975. But, as Sharon said, “they were smart about it. ” As the years went on, the demand for music and records began to rise, and, accordingly, Sharon’s family began selling records and record players in their shop. Rock and Soul became one of the first record and DJ stores. Through the golden age of the record, business boomed, and Rock and Soul reached many loyal customers. In the late 1980s, however, the record industry hit an all-too-well-known speed bump: the CD. As consumers of records began to fall from the grid, record stores followed suit. In an almost twenty-year dry spell, Rock and Soul was one of the only stores that continued to sell records. “We didn’t have the heart to let go, ” Sharon, now the store manager, explained. But it was the DJ equipment the store sold that kept it afloat. Rock and Soul is covered wall-to-wall in music equipment, from microphones to amplifiers to records and cover art. Boxes of records are crammed into the back, with listening stations in the corner. The day I was there, electronic music was blasting from a loft above. I had walked in on one of the store’s frequent “Scratch Pad Popup” events, during which DJs come in to play records on the store’s equipment and network with each other. “We care about sound, ” said Sharon. “Anything related to sound. ”In an age where any and all music is but a click away, Sharon acknowledged that people who buy records often do so for the aesthetic value. “It’s a different kind of person buying records, ” she said. “It’s someone looking for cool cover art, maybe something to hang up in their room. ” Colored records, in fact, are generally intended for display - it is frowned upon to play (and potentially scratch) them. But Sharon also emphasized the unique auditory value of record music. “Listen to a record and you’ll hear the whole picture, ” she said. “The keyboard, the saxophone: it’s all richer. You’re hearing it the way it’s meant to be heard. ” She noted that modern records are thicker than they have been in years past, delivering an even higher quality of sound. Such value translates to DJ work as well, according to Shawn McAdams, a frequent customer of Rock and Soul. Shawn has been a DJ since 1993, and is known in the DJ world as “Right On Shawn. ” More importantly, he is a DJ who uses records. “With DJs, ” he said, “people like to see the artwork. It’s so boring to see a guy just sitting on his laptop. ” But he admits that his methods are sometimes a surprise. “People often ask me, ‘Do they still make records? ’” he laughed. “That’s my favorite. ”The listening stations at Rock and Soul, it seems, are a DJ’s best friend. “I just play different things, ” said Shawn of his music choice, as he hefted a large stack of records onto the counter. “You listen until you find stuff that sounds good. ”Keith Dumpson is a record salesman at Rock and Soul, and has been for over forty years. Before that, he was working at a record store on 117th street, where he met people in the industry and learned how to produce music. His days were busy: “I would get up at five, work hard all day, and then work hard in the studio after. ” The opportunity to work at Rock and Soul, he said, changed his life. “They tested me out alphabetizing records, ” he recalled of the interview. “And I knew how to do that. I knew all the songs. ”Keith had a lot to say about the state of the music industry. “The technology today, it makes you lazy, ” he said. “Now you push a button, something comes out, and everyone’s cheering. ” He believes this has decreased the quality of music throughout his lifetime. “The new music ain’t happening. Years ago, music was a lot better. It was all records back then, and vinyl was cheaper. Hip hop was cleaner and made more sense. There’s no more real musicians like there used to be back in the day. Now the songs make no sense. A cat swallowing a razor blade is a hit. People today have no spirit of song. ”“Except for Beyonce, ” he quickly clarified. The sound afforded by the record, Keith believes, is necessary for good music. “It’s not just pushing buttons on there, ” he said. “It’s playing instruments. Music. ” Even with records making a comeback, the ease of downloading still makes it difficult for stores like Rock and Soul to keep their doors open. Though they have DJ equipment sales to carry it along, other stores are not so lucky. “You’ve got to shop in the store, ” said Sharon. “You can’t purchase online. " For shops like these, it is the in-person, non-digital customers who keep them in business.
Nestled up on the eighth floor and without any sign to indicate its existence to passersby on the street, the Jazz Record Shop is certainly not easy to find. But Fred Cohen’s collection of music and memorabilia has a cult of clientele who come from around the world to see it with their own eyes. During my visit, Fred’s wife, Bobbie, helped customers navigate the CDs, DVDs, posters, books, and records while he led me to a quiet corner for our “heart to heart. ”While growing up in Boston (Dorchester, West Roxbury, then Jamaica Plain), music was a peripheral part of Fred’s life. “My mother had a lovely voice, she sang in a chorus in Pittsburgh and there were records of show-tunes around the house, ” he reminisced. “We did have a piano but my sister was always the pianist. It wasn’t until my aunt took me to the Boston Jazz Festival that I was exposed to music that really blew me away. ”Still, Fred never expected that jazz would become his life’s passion. After college, he took a job with Odyssey House in New York as a drug rehabilitation counselor. “This was 1969 through 1982, and after eleven years I was burned out. I didn’t know what to do. I figured I could live for a year off of my savings, and it helped that Bobbie was making good money as a textile designer at the time. That’s when I got the call from Jolly Roger. ”Jolly Roger was a jazz record store on Columbus Avenue that Fred often frequented. The owner was looking for a new person to take over the business and offered the opportunity to Fred. “I really didn’t think it was a good idea, ” he recalled. “In my previous job, I was traveling to conferences and centers across the United States. The idea of sitting at a desk waiting on people - that did not sound like me. But Bobbie said we should at least take a look. The shop was incredibly narrow, like a railroad flat, and you could barely turn around with all the record racks in there. ” Fred paused a moment and shook his head before picking up the story once more. “But at the back there was this window and you could see this tree. And on this tree were two crooning morning doves. Bobbie took it as a sign. We opened on April 1st 1983, moved to the West 26th location in 1992, and, well, we are still here today. ” As the years went by, Fred broadened his musical interests, schmoozed with fellow collectors, and listened carefully to his customers. Today, Fred is the one who does most of the teaching, and by all accounts he is an expert in identifying and appraising jazz memorabilia. He literally wrote the book on collecting Blue Note records to help fellow enthusiasts identify original pressings. And it turns out, according to Fred, that sitting behind a desk is not so bad. “Selling CDs is a boring experience but LPs are a different story. Each one has such a vast technical, social, musical, and cultural history that I could spend a day talking about each aspect. ” Fred led me over to a closet called the “vault” to show me some of his personal items that are not for sale. Perhaps the most impressive was a Charlie Parker LP “Bird Blows the Blues” that Dial records offered exclusively via a mail-in order coupon in the June 3, 1949 issue of Downbeat Magazine. Fred has not only the record (of which only about fifty were sold), but the magazine issue and the coupon, too. When I inquired about the value of the Charlie Parker material, he told me they are worth five to ten thousand dollars, but he doesn’t plan to part with them any time soon, if ever. To Fred they are priceless. Eventually, Fred and Bobbie plan to step away from their business. What that will mean for The Jazz Record Center, they are not sure. “To be honest, it’s a little scary to think about, ” Fred said. “I do want it to live on. In one form or another, I’d love for it to survive. ”
Though the main location for Westsider Books, which opened in the 1980s, is on Broadway, the Westsider "record store" on 72nd Street did not come about until 2007. Every corner of the store is packed to the rafters with interesting finds in different genres of music and literature. In a world that is quickly becoming digital, Westsider prides itself on selling records, VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, postcards, and countless paperbacks. Westsider's adherence to older practices also means that customers can make trades and sell used books (though mainly at the Broadway location). Having lived on this street for a number of years now, and having owned my own bookstore, I continuously lose myself in the shelves full of rare, fascinating items, and can easily spend hours in the eclectic shop. Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez, the owners, believe that they may sadly be the last used bookstore on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood that was full of used-book stores at one time. For now, there appears to be enough bibliophiles in the area to keep the quirky shop in business. I am certainly someone who appreciates their commitment and wishes them well for many more years to come.
Washed in the warm lighting of this special shop, approximately 7, 000 books rest on shelves, in drawers, and tucked away in little nooks. Open for more than twenty years, this store has focused on collecting scholarly books ranging from art books to philosophy and everything in between, with much of the prose coming from estate sales. The feeling of age is the first thing we sensed when we walked in through the front door: creaky wooden floors beneath our feet and the scent of old paper in the air conjure a comforting environment where anyone might stumble upon that rare book or record they have been searching for over the years. As a former bookstore owner, it warms my heart to see a bookstore such as this one still thriving.
Nina was a happy girl when we entered A-1: "I take my music seriously, " she told me. So it wasn't much of a surprise that we ended up spending some quality time in this store. The extensive record collection here is mainly comprised of soul, funk, and hip-hop. Vinyl collectors will have a field day here, getting lost in the stacks of records. The staff is obviously very knowledgeable and Nina ended up with a stack of record recommendations to pore over at the listening station. There is also a constant stream of music playing in the store that might direct you to something you have not heard before. The vinyl store experience is something that you will not get on your computer at home. So, even if you do not collect vinyls, the way that Nina, age 24, does, come by here and discover something new.
Similar to bookstores and libraries, independent record stores tend to have a certain aura: dynamic background music, a slight mustiness, the low hum of small talk, and passionate staff with unparalleled musical knowledge. There is something endlessly appealing about this atmosphere, and Academy Records is no exception. Amid the ever-growing whirlwind of high tech and virtual realities, Academy’s owner, Joseph GaNun, has been working tirelessly to preserve a once-ubiquitous medium: the record. Back in the 1970s, Academy was primarily a book store. In the 1990s, they switched it up a bit by moving two doors down, and today it is widely acclaimed as a destination music shop. They are a haven for devotees of all styles of music, with an emphasis placed on classical and jazz. A matter of fact, Academy is considered one of the best places to come for classical music in the country, if not the world. Any lover of vinyl or compact discs will find a home here, as we observed one Friday afternoon while we watched a dozen or so men and women (of all ages) fervently flipping through records, CDs, and DVDs. Quite a refreshing change of pace in the age of iTunes and online shopping and certainly nothing like we have witnessed in any other record shop, thus far.
Kristian Sorge should be everyone's new best friend. He has got a knack for knowing just what music people will like and an expansive knowledge derived from years of being a vinyl collector. He began working in film, and continues to spends time working on film projects, but as he celebrates his two year anniversary with Limited to One records, he has the perspective to realize music has been his true passion all along. The shop has a unique focus: contemporary and independent music; it leans early 90s and beyond, but even the classic rock or jazz fan has a spot inside this record store. Kristian spoke nostalgically about a 1977 rare jazz record someone brought in that ended up being worth about $2, 000. With a past as a DJ, Kristian’s inventory does reflect a lot of his musical preferences. He grew up on Metallica and Public Enemy before really diving into punk and hardcore bands. Now, one will often hear punk, indie rock, or rap on rotation in the store, from Nirvana to N. W. A. On any given day, there are about two to three thousand records - a mere third of the size of Kristian’s personal collection. While we were there, a customer came up asking about a Ryan Adams “Prisoner” box set, and you could see Kristian’s eyes light up as he showed them the hidden record behind the stage and opened it up to display other quirky features. The customers were actually tourists from Louisiana, and found themselves questioning the best way to transport their new treasures home, referencing multiple previous stops to the shop. The man explained: “the only records we’ve bought here I’ve gotten from you. ” Even though Kristian is easily able to cater to and excite customers from outside of the area, he emphasized that he saves new additions so regulars always “get the first crack at stuff. ”Kristian also pairs with artists to design prints, t-shirts, and bags. He will coordinate with labels to do store-exclusive pressings, such as a specifically colored-vinyl or alternative artwork, allowing customers to really get a Limited to One experience. The name itself is two-pronged: the shop mostly carries limited-edition records, but when he was only a collector, Kristian and his friends would always pay acute attention to the pressing info, asking “what’s it limited to? ”