Why open a huge new record store in 2013?

The Audiophiliac was shaken and stirred by Rough Trade's new LP and CD store.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
A view from above, at Rough Trade NYC. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I know, times being what they are for the music business, it seems like a crazy, even contrarian thing to do. But Rough Trade just opened a 15,000-square-foot record store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York. The store only sells new CDs and LPs, no used stuff, along with various music-related merch like books and magazines.

Rough Trade NYC is a big, wide-open, converted warehouse space -- it feels like it's been there for a long, long time. Rough Trade has a similar, but much smaller, shop in London, which opened in 2007, and it's doing fine. Apparently young people are still buying music.

The Brooklyn store had its first day of business on Monday, and I dropped in at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. It didn't look completely finished. There's a good deal of construction still under way. But the staff was friendly and helpful. As I strolled around, the first to grab my attention were the CD listening stations deployed all over the store, and they were equipped with Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones -- that's incredible! Those headphones are a big upgrade over the usual cheap plastic ones you usually see in record stores, and the sound was top notch.

Rough Trade listening stations, equipped with B&W P5 headphones Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Music also was being played over the store's really decent B&W speakers -- apparently Rough Trade cares about sound quality. There's a cafe, and a performance space that holds 250 people, with a bar and balcony seating. The store has a full schedule of live shows and events in partnership with The Bowery Presents. There will be free in-store shows and ticketed concerts. One of my favorite 1970s bands, Television, will be there tonight. (It's sold out.) Rocker Nick Lowe will be doing an in-store gig on December 8 at 2 p.m. ET. I'm guessing the live shows will bring in folks who don't buy music, but maybe after they see the treasures lining the shelves, a few music lovers might take the plunge. We'll see.

While I was there I bought the Savages "Silence Yourself" LP for $17.99, which is $2 less than Amazon gets for the record. The Savages' LP is right up there with the best of 2013. I prefer buying physical music formats, not files, and I say that because I still have LPs I bought as a teenager. Music and books are the only things that can stick around for a lifetime. When I play an LP I bought decades ago, it brings back memories, like where I was when I played it the first time, and associations that go beyond just the music trapped in the grooves. I've met a lot of great people in record stores, and when some stranger I immediately connected with recommended I buy the Penguin Cafe Orchestra record, I did. That was 30 years ago, and I still listen to that record. If the music is good, you might cherish it forever. What else will you buy that would possibly be relevant 30 years from now?

So I'm hoping Rough Trade's long-shot gamble -- opening a huge record store in my hometown -- pays off. Because if it does, Rough Trade will surely open more stores in other cities, bucking the streaming music/MP3 trend. I'm not dreaming that suddenly everyone is going to get onboard with vinyl or even CDs over the next few years. But even if just 5 percent or 10 percent of music lovers stick with physical formats, those formats will continue to be made.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.