As a suburban teen, every weekend from the time I was 14, I would take the bus to Manhattan for some record shopping. Buying vinyl, CDs, and fashion items, my friends and I bonded and made lasting friendships with other kids from different suburbs and outer-boroughs we saw doing the same. As I got into my late teens, I started to work at these Manhattan record stores and realized it wasn’t just teens from the surrounding boroughs and suburbs commuting to NYC to shop for records – it was people from all across the country and all over the world. At a small 300 sq. ft. boutique punk record store on St. Marks Place I would work the Sunday shift. Without fail, every weekend there would be vinyl collectors with no command of the English language who had learned enough English in a pre-Google world to go to our store and search the shelves for a rare find.
With early 2009 brining the news of Kims, Etherea, and all of the Virgin Megastores closing (even the guy on the corner of St. Marks who sold all the Hip-Hop Tapes is gone now!), what will this mean for a city who thrives on its tourism? More economic bad news!
Now I will not pretend this is a huge part of the city of New York’s revenue, but we live in a city where our past 2 mayors have built the city up to be a tourist haven. The dying of the record store is indicative of a larger problem for New York. As the internet technologies devour the need for boutique stores, the NYC of the past will die, as well as part of our tourism.
I am not one to get off on a curmudgeonly rant and bemoan the kids of today; it is not their fault and change is often good. As someone who enjoys music and is a busy workaholic, I enjoy not having to travel to four record stores to find my latest underground obsession. If I want to find a track from an obscure band like Ocelot MTHRFCKRS, I head to Beatport and have it in under a minute and wouldn’t have it any other way.
While this article’s proclamation is a bit hyperbolic, there are still plenty of great record stores (though many of them have numbered days). I do believe that NYC will always contain enough vinyl and nostalgia collectors (read: CDs and cassettes in 10 years) to keep numerous record stores afloat, though the future does look grim for anyone who survives off the income of a subculture tourism industry. Those in that situation should brace themselves for not just a rough year, but a rough future.
I am curious if anyone has any ideas of how the subculture industries of today can reinvent themselves to survive in the coming years? As the fanzines of yesterday turned into the blogs of today, is now the time for aggregate online record stores? Will all of the watershed of smaller record stores dying off lead to a larger scale record store like the Amoeba’s of the west coast?
photo by flickr user eva101