Every trip to New York comes with certain rituals. Down the years, I've found myself heading to joints such as Strand Books and Veselka on every visit because they're part of the fabric of the Big Apple experience and stand out in my mind's map of how to navigate the city.
But on a trip the other week, there was no need for once to head to East 4th Street. After over 20 years in business, Other Music turned off for the lights for the last time in that location in June.
I couldn't tell you how much money I've spent in that record shop, but I can clearly remember it's where I came across a bundle of records which have became long-lasting favourites. It was where I first came across artists like Evie Sands, The National, Anthony & The Johnsons and many, many more.
That’s because Other Music operated how a record store should operate. There was great stuff on the shelves which would pique your interest if you had a curious mind or you’d hear something playing which would set you off on another route. It covered all the bases and found space for the vintage as well as the brand new. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable so you could trust their calls.
In 2016, there’s not much demand for a place like that anymore. Well, there is demand and a pressing need, but no one is prepared to pay for it.
By the and large, the record shops have been chased out of town. There are some shops left where brave souls continue to fight the good fight, but the rest have put up the white flag and got rid of their last box of sale-or-return CDs. You can’t blame them as it’s hard to face down a combination of changing customer behaviour, the cavalier greed of the property market and a ridiculous fixation on the short term by the bigger chains.
Yet despite all of this, there are some new record slingers around. Four blocks away from where Other Music used to stand, you’ll find a couple of racks of records inside the door of homeware and furniture shop Crate & Barrel.
As part of a deal with Capitol Records, the chain are now selling albums by Norah Jones, Beck, The Beach Boys, The Band, George Clinton, Beastie Boys and many more. They list their music offerings under Décor & Pillows on the website in case you're wondering.
Crate & Barrel are not alone in getting into records when the dedicated shops are getting out. The Tiger chain are also recent arrivals in the vinyl game (15 euro for an album, way cheaper than the likes of Tower and co), while Urban Outfitters continue to sell more vinyl than any other high street operator. Something which was once specialist and niche – you didn’t get anything more specialist and niche than vinyl records in the decades after the CD revolution – is now available in a furniture shop near you.
The question is if folks are buying records for style or substance from these new outlets. Just as Apple were keen to get into the download game to initially sell iPods, most of the new arrivals are also flogging the hardware to go with it.
Is the appeal of these vintage artifacts just part of a furniture trend for many or something else? Certainly, the record player from Crate & Barrel will look just lovely set off against a whole range of Farrow & Ball colours. Meanwhile, the countdown continues for the CD revival.