Indirectly, Eric and the rest of my family were teaching me the concept of crate digging. While it was fine to like what I heard on the radio, there was less-heralded talent that deserved the same attention. I walked that perspective through high school and into my career as a music journalist, author, editor and curator.
Long before I moved here in 2016, I’d hop buses to New York City to dig for records. It seemed there weren’t that many shops to choose from. It was the mid-2000s, music streaming was starting its domination of the industry, and many mom-and-pops were being forced to close.
“Record stores as we know them are dying,” Josh Madell, co-owner of Other Music in Downtown Manhattan, told The New York Times in 2008. “On the other hand, there is still a space in the culture for what a record store does, being a hub of the music community and a place to find out about new music.”
Mr. Madell, whose store eventually closed in 2016, was onto something. Just as record stores were failing, vinyl also started to make a curious comeback. The Recording Industry Association of America found that the shipment of LPs jumped more than 36 percent between 2006 and 2007. There was no clear-cut answer for the resurgence. Fellow heads will tell you there’s nothing like analog sound. While digital music sounds cleaner, vinyl sounds warmer and fills the room. There’s also nothing like poring over the album jacket and diving into the liner notes. It’s a time capsule.
When New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, local record store owners found themselves in familiar territory: Even though vinyl sales had surpassed CD sales last year for the first time since the ’80s, would the record shops, along with many of the city’s other indie storefronts, survive? Turntable Lab, a niche record shop in Manhattan’s East Village, closed its doors that year to focus on online sales. Other stores like Academy and Limited to One, also in the East Village, managed to keep their leases, but pivoted to online sales to make ends meet.
Nowadays, crate digging is done as much online as it is off. A stroll through the virtual music emporium Bandcamp can unearth everything from South African boogie to forgotten ambient. But clicking around doesn’t replace the act of visiting your favorite record store and discovering a rare find that either you’d been looking for, or didn’t know you needed until you saw the cover. Every place is different: Where Head Sounds is in the back of a barber shop, Academy is a vast spot with a bit more dust on the album jackets.
A new shop, Legacy Records, just opened on Water Street in Dumbo. I visited a few weeks back and landed an original copy of the Fugees’ 1996 album “The Score.”