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SDE New York diary: Day Four


SDE Editor, Paul Sinclair, is in New York during Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Record Store Day. He’ll be checking out the best of what record stores are left in Manhattan, heading over to Brooklyn for more vinyl and CD exploration and talking to shop owners, and record buyers. Read about his adventures in this last diary post of the trip.

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Paul Sinclair and Mike Hunchback in Co-op 87 Records


Day 4 / Saturday 27 November

I’m certainly putting in the mileage. I wish I had one of those ‘Fitbit’ activity monitors, because I’ve done SO much walking – my feet are sore, my back is sore!

I was VERY tempted to head down to Princeton today, to the Princeton Record Exchange (described by one SDE reader as ‘the second best record shop in the world’) but after careful consideration I decided there was still too much I hadn’t done in New York and a three-hour round trip out of town to see one record shop (however good) wasn’t the right move. This would be my last day of record-shopping, so it would be ridiculous to go home on Sunday evening without seeing what Brooklyn had to offer.

But before Brooklyn there was still unfinished business in Manhattan. I hadn’t been to Generation Records, Other Music or Academy Records yet, for example.

Having written yesterday’s Saturday Deluxe and the NY diary post for Friday (SDE isn’t going to write itself) it was a late start as I left the hotel at around about 10.30am. In fact I missed my ‘continental’ breakfast, so vowed to pick up the tried and tested cappuccino and croissant combo, somewhere on route.

First stop was going to be Generation Records since it was very close, just south of Washington Square Park on Thompson Street. Despite my late start the shop was closed. Grrr. I didn’t open until noon. Oh well, I’ll come back later (spoiler alert: I never did). New plan: I’ll head West to Other Music which is fairly near. That was closed as well (opens at noon, too). Argh! A record shop, a record shop, my kingdom for a record shop.

I could have hung around I suppose, but I wasn’t that convinced that Other Music was going to have lots of stuff I was interested in anyway, describing itself as ‘hip underground record store’ (I’m not very ‘hip’ – that’s what my kids tell me, anyway). I refuelled with with that coffee and pastry and headed north east to Academy Records. Enough of this walking malarkey though, I have a Metrocard and I’m going to use it.

It was open, which was a start, and it was really busy, helped no doubt by its city-centre location. This shop reminded a little bit of Reckless Records in London, although the clientele was much more varied, there were all walks of life in here, not just your archetypal record-buying obsessive. The front section had used CDs, DVDs and vinyl with the back area serving fans of classical and jazz.

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Pricing was competitive. For example, I spotted the double SACD version of Bob Dylan‘s Blonde on Blonde for just $6.99. The 20th anniversary CD of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was only a dollar more.

academy

There is a ‘cheap’ section above these main racks with CDs starting at $2.99. After a bit of scanning, I spotted the US CD single of XTC‘s King For A Day ($2.99) and Suzanne Vega‘s Beauty & Crime album for the same price. Done!

It was time to head over to Greenpoint area of Brooklyn to check out what seems to be a thriving record-store community. Because the East River sits between Manhattan and Brooklyn, my perception was that the subway ride would take a while, but the reality is that it’s a very quick and short journey on the ‘L’ line from Union Square to Bedford Avenue where I alighted. A walk down through McCarren Park took me to Co-op 87 Records on Guernsey Street.

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Co-op 87 Records

The shop has been open for about four years and co-owner Mike Hunchback has been running and working in record stores most of his life. Co-op 87 is a fairly compact store but as Mike pointed out to me, this has it’s advantages since your premises have less chance of being taken over by coffee shops etc. It’s mainly vinyl only, with a large selection of house/Italian disco 12-inches, although I spotted some 80s pop too.

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Co-op 87 Records

I picked up the US 12-inch of Swing Out Sister‘s Breakout (complete with ‘Carnival Mix’, which remains unreleased in the UK) and from a cabinet full of $1 and $2 VHS tapes I spotted Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s From A Wasteland To An Artificial Paradise VHS, so snagged that too! It’s surprises like this that make visiting actual record shops such fun.

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Mike was a great guy and took the trouble to print me out a map with instructions of how to get to some other record stores in the area, namely Captured Tracks, Record Grouch, The Thing and Academy Records.


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Captured Tracks

Captured Tracks is a basement shop on Calyer Street, about three blocks away from Co-op 87, down Manhattan Avenue.

This place has the biggest collection of cassette tapes I’ve seen for years. I did keep an eye out for any rare cassette singles, but it was mainly a variety of rock/pop/indie albums from across the decades. But in the main, this bright and friendly record shop contains new and used vinyl. There are tons of 1980’s 12-inch singles for $3 a pop and there was a wide selection of new Record Store Day releases.

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Inside Captured Tracks

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Tapes!

There was a ‘sale’ bin which included a sealed vinyl copy of Light in the Attic’s Mark Lanegan Has God Seen My Shadow? anthology. A snip at $20. Two 12-inches caught my eye, the German version of Paul Hardcastle‘s 19 and a promo of Lloyd Cole‘s She’s A Girl and I’m A Man which has a very nice front cover. Both ended up in the SDE shopping basket.

captured


Record Grouch is on the high street, further down Manhattan Avenue, in the heart of Greenpoint. The shop largely stocks vinyl, although there is a reasonable selection of CDs and a few box sets.

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Record Grouch

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Inside Record Grouch

They had a sealed copy of the the Lee Hazlewood Industries There’s a Dream I’ve Been Saving box for just $60 which is a bit of a bargain. I was very, very tempted by a David Bowie VINYL Sound + Vision box for $80, but in the end I didn’t pull the trigger. I always try to buy something from each store I visit, so I walked out with a promo 12-inch of Thomas Dolby‘s Dolby’s Cube (to go with my Hot Sauce 12-inch bought on Day Two) and a vinyl copy of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Co-owner Brian did me a deal – $5 for the both.

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A few box sets in Record Grouch, including the Sound + Vision vinyl

It was getting late and I was going to cut the day short and miss out Rough Trade which was on my list. But still time to visit a crazy mother of a store The Thing, which is more or less across the road from Record Grouch.

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The Thing in Brooklyn

This place is absolutely FULL of used vinyl at $2 each. There is an unbelievable amount but it is heaven and hell in equal measure because nothing is in any kind of order. It’s all random. As one member of staff said “think how many DJs were in New York in the eighties. All that vinyl has got to go somewhere”. The problem is most 12-inches don’t have proper spines and as you can see from the image below, you have to do it the hard way and pull most records out to see what they are. And there is a load of dross mixed in with some gems. In one row of vinyl I saw a Stravinsky Piano Concerto, a Johnny Mathis album and a Samantha Fox promo 12-inch!

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The Thing: Heaven and Hell in equal measure

I persevered, but after about 45 minutes to an hour you do kind of lose the will to live. In the end I walked out with five records including the US 12-inch of Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Misfit with the rare-ish Club Mix and Dub Mixes on the B-side.

I’d definitely had enough for the day, and it was time to head back to the hotel and try and get to the Cinema to see The Martian!

Sunday will see me return to London and I’ve very much enjoyed this New York adventure. Thanks for your company and I hope to do something similar again next year, so let me have your suggestion for great cities to visit for record shopping.

paulsig

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37 responses to SDE New York diary: Day Four

  1. Todd R. says:

    Disc O Rama was a great winner this past August when I was there, I too was happy with the first floor, but went crazy when I discovered the basement section with the 80’s 12″ rack (Thompson Twins “In The Name Of Love ’88 on 12″ was the only one I didn’t have yet!) – Thanks for this great walk -around – next time I’m in town I’ll be using this as my new guide :)

  2. Bruce says:

    Paul, thanks for sharing your Big Apple experience with us! After reading through your blogs I’ve decided I need to plan my own trip to NYC for a music shopping weekend soon.

    For your next trip I would suggest Nashville. We have 8 excellent used and/or new music stores within 15 minutes of downtown, and there is plenty of live music pretty much all the time. And you’re only a few hours drive from Memphis if you want to check out Sun Records, Graceland, etc.

  3. Christopher Straub says:

    I find The Thing pretty overwheming. There’s got to be great stuff buried in there and every time I go there I think “today’s the day I’m really going to take time and dig” but losing the will to live pretty much sums it up after a while. Princeton Record Exchange is SOOOO good. There’s still time!!!!

  4. gb says:

    so you didn’t buy samantha fox?!
    curious which it was now – the Full-Force produced ‘Naughty Girls’ would have pretty cool. great remixes

  5. Carl Noonan says:

    Paul thanks for sharing your trip details with us. The images of the shops took me back to my younger days. They all seemed to be stuck in a time warp in terms of layout, fittings etc. I haven’t been in a record shop for years and I do miss the thrill of finding hidden treasures. Even though your musical tastes are far from what I listen to (in the main) I still read the stuff you write about. Great work, great site.

  6. Hi Paul!

    I have really enjoyed reading your SDE New York Diary. The work you do here on SDE is fantastic and I read pretty much everything you post. I love the combination of your writing, the images, videos and general record nerdery…

    I believe a great place to visit for record shopping would be Gothenburg, Sweden with lots of great record shops all with walking distance from each other. I’d be glad to show you around.

    Keep up the great work!
    Robert

  7. cecil meulenberg says:

    Your described behaviour reminds me of my younger years, roaming through streets of Amsterdam and other bigger cities in The Netherlands: on the hunt. Great habit, do it much too little nowadays.

  8. Steve says:

    Shame you couldn’t make it down to Princeton Record Exchange because that is indeed a truly great shop that offers up loads of bargains. Not quite the equal of Waterloo Records in Austin but close. You are right about Bleecker Street Records – the wonder needs to crack a smile once in a while. Still for us Brits it is a great treat – thanks for the review as there are some I was not aware of and as I go to NY couple of times per year on business this review was most helpful.

  9. JAMES says:

    Paul
    Clearly there are only 2 viable options for a future trip
    GTT!! (Gone To Texas). Great people, food & music
    Copy & paste the links below for GREAT RECORD SHOPPING

    1) Austin
    http://austin.culturemap.com/news/entertainment/04-16-15-guide-best-austin-record-stores-vinyl-cds-music/
    2) Dallas
    http://www.dallasobserver.com/music/the-10-best-record-stores-in-dallas-7070475

    All of the Austin stores are within spitting distance of one another. In Dallas there will be driving. The links provided do not include Bills Records near downtown. Here you will find about 100,000 records in no particular order and prices are divined @ check out by Bill.

    If you have time for a history lesson you can shoot over to El Paso. Flights on Southwest Airlines are dirt cheap. This town has more history than anywhere else in the USA. (You could drive from DFW toEP but it takes about 20 hours round trip w/meal break)

    Have a great trip to the Lone Star State!!
    PS: take the wife & leave the kids

    J

  10. John says:

    Is Mike Hunchback his real name?

  11. jsd says:

    Very much enjoyed reading your NYC trip report. Reminded me of my college years when a weekend drive from western Massachusetts (where I was at college) to NYC for record shopping seemed like a very good idea.

    Next time you should visit the San Francisco Bay Area. Drop me a line if you’re in SF and I’ll show you the sights.

  12. Jason Paskowitz says:

    Your impression of Other Music is fairly accurate. Mostly hipster-ish stuff up front. However, there are a few racks in the back near the cashier station with slightly more accessible product that is worth the trip. I picked up The Sonics “Boom” and “Here Are The Sonics” in mini-lp and got to fondle the Beatles Japanese Albums box set all in one recent visit. Worth stopping in during your next trip.

    Also,the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center has a moderately well-stocked CD and Vinyl department with a friendly and helpful staff.

  13. abitoftap says:

    Your description of The Thing reminds me of Colony Records in Times Square (or close) 15/20 years ago..with what seemed like miles of closely shelved lps, with little space between the racks. They may well have been alphabetised, but it was so overwhelming I could never last long in there.

  14. Paul Scott says:

    Great read Paul! Any sign of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow on gray/grey vinyl? Can’t find it anywhere in the UK

  15. Dennis says:

    Enjoyed your blogposts about your NYC trip a lot! Great idea!
    Maybe for the next trip you ccould consider a European city, saves a bit on travelling costs and you can spend more on records :)

  16. MFG says:

    Paul – a shame you missed out on Rough Trade, mostly for the experience of wandering around a large store in a newly-renovated building full of brand new vinyl records and CDs. A very different experience from the other stores that you visited in NYC, and something I had not experienced myself since Tower Records and HMV closed up shop. Also, Rough Trade has a better-curated selection than most of the big chain music stores that I remember from the ’80s and ’90s.

    Then again, maybe the Rough Trade stores in the UK are similar to what I’m describing, so the Brooklyn store would just be more of the same? Either way, prioritizing the smaller independent stores (and giving them your business) was the right call, but including a visit to Rough Trade and taking the time to compare and contrast would have been even more interesting.

  17. Eric says:

    By a strange coincidence, a CD I got in the mail today, bought used from a US seller, has a $1.99 Princetown Record Exchange sticker on it! I wondered what or where that might be. And you mention here on the same day.

  18. Friso Pas says:

    Some very nice things you found! Very nice read!

  19. James Giraffe says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m really pleased you’ve had such a successful trip. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Have a safe trip home.

  20. Paul English says:

    Very enjoyable series of articles Paul, thank you.

    The independent shops not opening until late morning always annoyed me [11.00 / 12.00]. One of the theories advanced is that they’re often run by hipsters who feel that 9.00 – 6.00pm opening hours are too conventional and square. Man.

    • Ex-Oligarch says:

      It’s down to the preferences of the customers, not the staff. No point in opening at 9:00 if no one walks through the door (bar the occasional friendly Englishman on holiday) until 11:00. And if you’re hustling a dozen customers out of the shop at closing time, you’re probably leaving cash on the table.

  21. korova says:

    Really enjoyed reading your wanderings around NYC, hopefully I’ll get to do the same soon. Would deffo have got the Bowie sound and vision vinyl set for 80 usd. Bought the CD version in Florida in the mid 80’s but its gone missing over the years.

  22. Dave says:

    Great read, thanks for sharing. I really miss the days of record hunting, but there just aren’t that many shops near me to visit. I was wondering if anyone knows of any websites that might collect various independent record shop locations throughout the UK? If not, someone should definitely design one! I’ll often visit different places at the weekend or when travelling to gigs, and when I wander around I will always go into a record shop if I see one, but then wonder how many I have likely missed by not knowing the area well enough (or having the time to wander far enough afield). We NEED something like this, and it wouldn’t hurt these indie record shops much either! :)

  23. Zongadude says:

    @Dave: There is this site which I find very useful:
    http://recordcollectormag.com/dirs

    It got me aware of the ‘Bside The Cside” shop in Herne Bay, where I found a copy of the 1968 single “It would be so nice/Julia dream’ by The Pink Floyd !

    :)

  24. Dave says:

    Wow, thanks @Zongadude! I had no idea such information was kept on the Record Collector website, I will definitely refer to this when I next get the itch to go record hunting. Very useful, much appreciated. :)

  25. MK says:

    Fantastic guide to NYC record shops. As a Philly resident, we’ve got nothing to compare to most of your finds, though Long in the Tooth on Sansom Street is the great one for locals. Sorry you didn’t get down to Princeton Record Exchange. Certainly the best record shop on the East Coast (have had two opportunities to live in Princeton for a year at a time and can say you can find something new that you want to buy every second day if you live there –Ryko Bowie promos for three dollars, that sort of thing, plus vinyl, vinyl everywhere). PREx is one of only two viable record shops in the whole state of NJ, since it’s sandwiched between NYC and Philly. Also worth a stop is Vintage Vinyl (NJ, not the Evanston, IL/High Fidelity Movie shop) in Woodbridge, NJ: huge, around forever, very good collectable vinyl plus huge quantities of cheap, non-collectable but very listenable vinyl, and the largest specialist Metal section just about anywhere in the world if you like that sort of thing.

  26. Warren Mason says:

    You really should venture to Princeton, NJ if you have time as the Record Exchange is the best shop in the eastern US. Not much left in NYC unfortunately and I miss the record store scene terribly! For years I had a weekly tradition of visiting the Virgin Megastore on Tuesday for new releases and then grabbing food at Virgil’s BBQ on 44th to talk music with the great bartenders there for a couple of hours! At least Virgil’s is still there…. Generation was known primarily for bootlegs as were most of the shops in the Village. In the record store heyday those shops were routinely shaken down by the police and somehow remained in business.

    When referring to the best music store in the world I really hope we are all referring to Amoeba Records in San Francisco! I have never been to a better shop and I have been to just about every corner of the globe for music.

    • Ex-Oligarch says:

      I suppose it depends on your tastes, but:

      1. Amoeba San Francisco
      2. Amoeba Los Angeles
      3. Amoeba Berkeley
      4. Music & Video Exchange, Notting Hill Gate, London
      5. Record Surplus, Los Angeles
      6. Dixon’s Recycled, Melbourne
      7. Princeton Record Exchange
      8. Rockaway Records, Los Angeles

      I agree that PRex is the best I’ve run across since moving to the East Coast a few years ago, but it really pales besides the competition in California.

  27. Sam Missimer says:

    There’s one sleeper in midtown that you missed out on Paul, BOOKOFF on West 45th Street.

    This is an odd store, which while emphasizing books and dvds, has a large and frequently refreshing (as collections get purchased) inventory of CD’s which are mostly well arranged.

    If you do finally get around to the pilgrimage to Princeton (yes, the Exchange really is THAT good a store – I tithe there) , look me up as I’d love to host you for a meal or an evening of deep listening, as I greatly enjoy your blog.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thank you very much! I really do hope to get to Princeton at some point in the future… I guess it will be a while though :(

    • Warren Mason says:

      Forgot about Bookoff, Sam! Stumbled upon it while walking over to Virgil’s BBQ a couple of years ago. It is as you describe, a bit offbeat….

  28. Tom Elliot says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this travelogue so much, thankyou. I look forward to your next adventure.

  29. Ex-Oligarch says:

    Thank you for sharing your impressions of these shops. I’ve paid several visits to NYC, most recently the week before your own trip. My observations generally gibed with yours, but there are a few things I’d mention.

    1. I’m glad you found a number of shopkeepers who were friendly. That was generally not my experience, except — oh the irony! — at The Record Grouch. On one visit I passed a happy hour discussing the history of the neighborhood and the local music scene while picking up a good dozen unusual LPs.

    2. It’s not hyperbole to say that The Thing must be seen to be believed. And like you, I was a bit surprised to come away dissatisfied by the experience of seemingly endless stacks of boxes and crates piled to the ceiling upstairs, and stretching through long claustrophobic rows in the basement, all jam-packed with vinyl. It should be a digger’s paradise, right? But like you, I found no realistic way to browse the titles short of physically removing the records from the boxes, and almost every record that caught my interest was damaged. I remember thinking at the time: “it’s a pity I’m not into 80’s 12 inch pop/dance remixes, or I’d love this place.” Based on your experience I guess not!

    3. A word about Other Music: from what I can gather of your own tastes, you probably made the right choice to spend your time elsewhere. OM made its reputation as a specialist in experimental music, noise, drone, and stuff like that, and the store reflects that emphasis. The reissues it stocks are generally quite nice, but also offbeat; the sort of titles that are fortunate to be rediscovered at all, and will certainly never receive a SDE. That said, it didn’t strike me as a store for hipsters so much as for people of whatever age and type who like that sort of esoteric music, and the staff has been friendly each time I’ve visited. To my way of thinking, Captured Tracks almost defines the hipster store (and man is that place expensive), but even the jovial Record Grouch is a bit more hipster than OM.

    Thanks again for the report.

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