Rough Trade NYC: A Scouting Report


Rough Trade NYC (David Chiu)

Rough Trade NYC Photo: David Chiu

It’s been seven years and I still haven’t recovered from the closing of the giant Tower Records store in the East Village. For nearly 20 years the store was my whole world, an excuse to go to the Village and comb through old and new records. My relationship to Tower went back to when they sold 45 RPM vinyl singles and cassette singles (remember those?). And the in-store appearances–getting to see musicians like Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Erasure, Philip Glass and Bryan Ferry perform there profoundly influenced my taste in music. It was a lot more than just a record store.

After the store closed in 2006, it was hard to find other stores in the city that could match Tower’s wide selection and vibe. J&R Music World filled the void a little bit, but now their space has been reduced and Other Music, which is just across the street where Tower once stood, is just a bit too indie for me.

So it was my surprise to read Casey Acierno’s recent piece about U.K.-based Rough Trade opening a store in Williamsburg. Never having been to London, I didn’t know that Rough Trade operated record shops–I only knew it as the famed indie record label whose clientele included the Smiths. But what really piqued my interest was that the store will also be a new venue space for live performances–the legendary punk band Television was scheduled to play there this past weekend.

Shoppers at Rough Trade NYC (David Chiu)

Shoppers at Rough Trade NYC Photo: David Chiu

On a Saturday afternoon, I went to Williamsburg to see Rough Trade NYC for myself. Once I got inside, I was really impressed with its warehouse-like space. With the CDs and vinyl albums side by side, the selection is a nice mix of both name and indie acts. (Heck, I was even chuffed to see a vinyl copy of This is Spinal Tap!) There were several listening stations where you can preview some of the store’s featured music.

Some of what's on the shelves at Rough Trade NYC (David Chiu)

Some of what’s on the shelves at Rough Trade NYC Photo: David Chiu

The upper level of the store has a section for books and artsy publications, kind of reminiscent of when Tower had its own literary section for a time. Also the Guardian Green Room, is an interactive area where patrons can check out the British publication’s music and culture coverage. In another part of the upper level there are ping-pong tables if you want to partake in a game. And from above, you can even get a view of the stage area below where the concerts are held.

Stage area at Rough Trade NYC (David Chiu)

Stage area at Rough Trade NYC Photo: David Chiu

And like Tower, the overall vibe of the place was friendly and cool. I was pretty much left alone and free to browse without having the pressure to buy anything or having an overeager clerk approaching me. More importantly, it was a warm feeling to see people checking out the music and hanging out. That’s what makes the experience of going to a record store so special: the sense of community among casual and die-hard music geeks alike. Plus there’s the act of actually holding something physical in your hand–a feeling you can’t get from an MP3 or streaming music service.

It’s a bit early to see how much of an impact Rough Trade NYC will have on the neighborhood as an institution and whether it could lead to more record stores popping up in the city. Personally I’m eager to see what’s coming up as far as events and shows–Nick Lowe, Andrew Bird and Courtney Barnett are all scheduled to make appearances in the next few weeks. But as of now, I think I’ve found another new reason to visit Williamsburg more often.

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