Selling records is certainly a rough trade in 2013, but that is not stopping an English company from opening a vinyl outlet in Williamsburg, even as other neighborhood purveyors are packing up their wax.
The London-based record label Rough Trade has two stores in its home country and is opening its first U.S. location on Nov. 25 in the neighborhood that has seen record stores flee rising rents in recent years, or fold entirely. An executive at the incoming English chain says that the displacement of old stand-bys like Sound Fix and Academy Records is a testament to those stores’ business practices, not a decline in people buying vinyl.
“If other stores close, that’s a reflection of their own approach rather than the merit and relevance of a record store,” Rough Trade manager Stephen Godfroy said.
Williamsburg’s resident would-be “High Fidelity” cast-members bristled at the suggestion, pointing out that national chains — not just mom-and-pop stores — have fallen victim to the economic problems posed by running a brick-and-mortar store in the iTunes age.
“That’s a pretty shortsighted assessment,” Academy Records owner Mike Davis said of Godfroy’s statement. Davis is in the process of decamping to Greenpoint for cheaper rents and what he says are hipper crowds.
“All of the other companies who have tried it in New York City recently have failed, like Virgin and Tower [Records]. It’s not the fault of a business plan. It’s really just math.”
The new Rough Trade store will include a music venue with performances booked by Bowery Presents and Davis said he anticipates that Rough Trade will make most of its money from drinks and performances.
“I would be amazed if records are more than 10 percent of their revenue,” he said.
Rough Trade has a sister label, Rough Trade Records. Both started up in the 1970s and the label put out albums by break-out bands including the Smiths, the Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and, in a second incarnation, the Strokes, Arcade Fire, and Belle and Sebastian. The chain of stores has been formally separate from the label since 1983, but both companies still use the same logo.
Rough Trade’s London stores are some of the most popular record stores in all of Europe, according to Godfroy, who hopes to replicate that success in the neighborhood that was an indie epicenter for most of the 2000s.
“Williamsburg appreciates the authentic, places-a-value-on-the-no-frills real deal,” he said. “Being an authentic, real deal record store, where better for us to locate?”
Godfroy declined to list the exact address, but the store will be on N. 9th Street between Wythe and Kent avenues, according to Billboard Magazine.