It was Eric and the rest of my family who were teaching me about crate digging in an indirect fashion. Although I enjoyed the music I heard on the radio, I felt that other, lesser-known artists deserved the same recognition. Through high school and into my career as a music journalist and author, editor and curator, I stayed true to that perspective.
I used to take the bus to New York City to look for records long before I moved here in 2016. There didn’t seem to be a lot of places to shop. Music streaming was beginning to take over the industry in the mid-2000s, and many small record stores were being forced to shut their doors.
In 2008, Josh Madell, co-owner of Downtown Manhattan’s Other Music, told The New York Times that “record stores as we know them are dying.” Records stores still have a place in the culture because they serve as a meeting place for musicians and a source for new music.
It wasn’t a fluke that Mr. Madell’s store closed in 2016. Vinyl began to make an unexpected comeback at the same time that record stores were going out of business. Shipment of LPs increased by more than 36 percent in 2007, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The resurgence’s cause remained a mystery. Analog sound is unsurpassed, as your fellow audiophiles will attest.
Vinyl, on the other hand, has a richer, fuller sound that envelops you. Poring over the album cover and diving into the liner notes is also a wonderful experience. It’s like having a piece of history in a bottle.
When the coronavirus outbreak hit New York City in 2020, local record store owners found themselves back in familiar territory: Would the record shops, along with many other indie storefronts in the city, survive despite vinyl sales surpassing CD sales for the first time since the 1980s?
To focus on online sales, Turntable Lab closed its doors in Manhattan’s East Village that year. Academy and Limited to One, two East Village shops that were able to keep their leases despite the economic downturn, shifted their focus to online sales to make ends meet.
In today’s world, crate-digging is done online as well as offline. From South African boogie to forgotten ambient, Bandcamp’s virtual music emporium has it all. Visits to your favourite record store, on the other hand, are still the best way to come across a hidden gem you’ve been looking for or didn’t even realise you needed until you saw the cover. Head Sounds is tucked away in a barber shop’s back room, while Academy is a sprawling warehouse with a bit more dust on the album covers.
On Water Street in Dumbo, a new record shop, Legacy Records, has just opened its doors. The Fugees’ 1996 album “The Score” was in my possession when I went to visit a few weeks ago.