We did a round up a while back of some of the best record stores in Brooklyn, but believe it or not, there are great spots in other boroughs, too. Whether you’re a dedicated audiophile, or you just like to paw through the bargain bin looking for fun album covers, some might say the best part of finding new music is the hunt itself. So say you pick a day, Record Store Day or otherwise, that you dedicate to hunting for records. But how do you even begin to wade through the bevy of music shops in our fine five boroughs? And how do you plan for nourishment along the way (“nourishment” here meaning booze)? And how, pray tell, do you possibly find a way to travel between all these places with a live band, the way ones does?
That’s pretty much the premise of the NYC Record Store Crawl. It’s a curated tour of some of the best record shops in the five boroughs (or, at least, three of them), complete with booze, snacks and a live band on a school bus with about 50 other people. The inaugural Crawl took place on Record Store Day in April, and the second one was this past Saturday.
I, being a fan of things that are fun and cool, decided to go. A ticket typically runs $59.95, which might seem like a lot (at least, it did to me: I do write for Brokelyn, after all). So I, being the intrepid journalist that I am, set out to determine whether or not this was worth it. Adventure ensued.
This Crawl stopped at Rough Trade, Artists & Fleas, HiFi Records, Generation Records, Village Music World and Bleecker Street Records. The Record Store Crawl was founded by the distribution and services arm of Warner Music. Dick Joseph, one of our intrepid tour leaders, says he had been doing promotions at different shops on Record Store Day 2015 when the idea came to him.
“I was running from record store to record store with some coworkers, and we stopped at some bar to get pizza and beer,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t there an organized thing that takes people in a group from store to store, with stops along the way for food and booze?’ And then we started the Crawl. The concept has been around before, but we’re the first Crawl on a national level, with events in seven cities around the country (LA, Austin, DC, Chicago, Nashville, Portland and, of course, New York).”
The band thing was the part that really got me. I actually interviewed Heliotropes a couple weeks back when frontwoman Jessica Numsuwankijkul told me about their upcoming mobile performance.
“We’re practicing a stripped-down version of our set to play on this bus during the Crawl. … We’ve never played on a moving vehicle before, and there is an open bar involved, so it’s probably going to be a shit show, but I’m excited. It’s just a cool fun thing to do.”
The band on the last Crawl (on RSD) was Bear Hands. Two of the folks I spoke to had attended the RSD crawl just to see them.
“We were long-time fans of Bear Hands, and we were the assholes standing on the back of the bus screaming along to every single song, I’ve been to God knows how many shows, but I’ve only been to one on a bus,” one of the fans, Serge, of Chelsea, said while laughing. “Two, I guess, now.”
And yes, it was a yellow school bus. And yes, there was an open bar. According to one participant, “you can’t really go wrong if you start the day with an open bar at 11am.” Valid.
So part of me wanting to go on this thing, other than exploring record stores and drinking free beer, was to determine whether the $60 admission is worth it. According to some folks I spoke to who had attended the inaugural RSD crawl, they offer discounted tickets for repeat Crawlers. But what does that ticket get you? Here’s the breakdown.
The Crawl kicks off with an open bar at Baby’s All Right
And when they say “open,” they mean “OPEN.” Like, not just cans of PBR and that “whiskey” my uncle likes to buy for $10 a gallon. Baby’s bartenders served up top shelf stuff, for free, for TWO HOURS. Plus, Baby’s All Right is kind of known for their delicious tacos (and sometimes their unorthodox advertising techniques), and as part of the crawl, you could get them for a dollar a pop. This should go without saying, but TIP YOUR BARTENDER. These fine folks were working over time fueling up thirsty record hunters.
Swag bags and giveaways!
We’re all about the free stuff. If the open bar wasn’t enough (which, really, if you’re in it to win it, you could get your money’s worth on that alone. Not that I did, because I was busy being an Intrepid Reporter, but you could), each and every participant gets a cute little tote bag full of free stuff, including a new Cyndi Lauper 45, a random record and a bunch of posters. One guy I spoke to, Justin of Ditmas Park, was a repeat attendee from the Record Store Day crawl:
“I would have come for the $60 open bar alone, but on Record Store Day, the swag bag included two Led Zeppelin pressings and a random record,” he said. “The Zeppelin records were valued at like $25 each, so it was actually a really good deal.”
Plus, they had giveaways for cool stuff throughout the day. The Crawl gave away test pressings of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Green Day and Mastodon, as well as a Gary Clark Jr. canvas print; and HiFi Records gave away Kanto YUMI speakers.
Discounts at record shops around the city
I’m going to share with you the itinerary for the day, complete with discounts, and some stuff I noticed about each place. So here we go:
15 percent off at Rough Trade: Overall, a HUGE selection — I mean, the shop itself is massive — with decent prices. They have a small used section, but it’s highly curated, meaning that if you’re cool with digging through bins, you can find really good stuff at discounted prices, any day of the week. Plus, look how stoked Jessica Numsuwankijkul was posing with a display of the new Heliotropes record:
We traveled on foot, following Dick and Matt with their handy backpacks (see the photo of the two above: they had records on sticks poking out to serve as a beacon for crawlers), to Artists & Fleas. There was no discount, but the records they had were all fairly cheap (ish). The selection wasn’t gigantic, but there was a curated selection of vintage records and a large section for 45s. Plus, Artists & Fleas is a great place to go if you’re generally looking for cool stuff, be that cool stuff records, artisanal candles or lavender flavored cotton candy. Because that’s a thing that exists.
Next, we rode about 20 minutes to Astoria for 10 percent off purchases at HiFi records. This shop was on the smaller side, but, across the board (according to the folks I talked to), had the best selection and best prices. Just look at what Jessica and Ricci of Heliotropes found:
(Side note: Apparently Cucumber Castle is Numsuwankijkul favorite Bee Gee’s record. As far as I know, she did not jump Swift for it, though there was talk of an ambush.)
HiFi was also great because, while they serve up coffee drinks every day, today they had a keg of Singlecut beer, free for all Crawl participants.
So then we hopped back on the bus to go to Manhattan and hit Generation Records. There wasn’t a discount here, but the selection of both new and used vinyl (and CDs, too) was impressive. Plus, if you can’t find anything on the top floor, there’s a whole basement full of other stuff!
We walked a few blocks for 25 percent off at Village Music World. The discount was real cool, but their prices were super high. The general consensus was that this was the priciest shop of all the ones we visited. However, they did have a lot to choose from, including books, posters, CDs and DVDs.
We finished the day with 10 percent 0ff at Bleecker Street Records. It’s no longer on Bleecker street, but it is still a New York institution with a really solid selection.
An exclusive performance by a really good band, on a school bus
So like I mentioned, the Record Store Crawl is put on in part by Warner Music. And to differentiate this one from other similar crawls like the ones Joseph mentioned, they include a band. Performing live. On a school bus.
It was a stripped-down acoustic set, and the vocals could have been louder (or the people talking next to me could have been quieter). The bus was bumpy, which was hilarious and probably more than a little frustrating for people who are trying to make music. And, okay, the windows were open (because no AC on a school bus) and it rained directly into my eyeball. But still, it was super good. And this band was chosen specifically for this purpose.
Heliotropes is an awesome band. We know this. They were hand selected to be the house (bus?) band on this Crawl, and also, their record was prominently displayed in more than one of the record stores. When it came to the actual set, the band mostly sat/kneeled on the bus seats as they were able. There was no amplification, and no way to keep things steady when the bus bumped up and down as buses are wont to do. There was more than one audible laugh from the band when the bus hit a bump and they had to keep going.
Riding a school bus while at least slightly inebriated
I, for one, had never done that. It was not nearly as miserable as it might sound. I mean, there is the whole thing I mentioned earlier about the rain in my eyeballs, but still.
Who was at the Crawl?
The crowd at the Crawl was a good mix of both audiophile collectors and casual music fans. There was at least one couple I spoke to, Dave and Bonnie, of Queens, who were decidedly not of the millennial 25-35 age bracket that seemed to dominate the Crawl: Bonnie recalled raiding J&R’s record collection, back when they sold records, that is — which was a while ago. I guess they were in their 40s, maybe. But there were folks from all over, weekend warriors and music industry types alike, who came along for the hunt. People generally found out about the event through social media (follow the Crawl on Facebook!).
What did we find?
A whole bunch of stuff. It seemed that, of all the shops, HiFi in Astoria was the crowd favorite. Generation Records and Village Music World had a decent selections, but were a bit pricier.
There’s an entire section of used Willie Nelson records at Rough Trade. Artists and Fleas has a lot of LPs for under $20, most of which are vintage, plus a whole box of 50 cent 45s. David, of Queens, told me that he found Sinead O’Connor’s first album, a Simple Minds single and a whole bunch of other stuff. Angelique, a fellow shopper I bonded with over our mutual love of John Waters’ Cry Baby, told me she’s been record shopping all over the country, specifically in search of Prince records to add to her collection. She was most impressed with the prices and selection at HiFi, having found For You, Prince’s first album, for $20.
“Unless it’s, like, a brand new White Album, I’m not spending $50 on a single vinyl,” Angelique said, “That’s making vinyl a privilege, when it should be accessible.”
The verdict: Worth it. Across the board. 10/10 would crawl again. Sometimes in this city there are Very Cool Things that happen, and this is one of them. And if you don’t live in New York, there are crawls in other cities, too!
Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music, intoxicated school bus rides, and the things she somehow knows about Alice Cooper, follow Lilly on Twitter.
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Calling Village Music World’s prices on the ‘high-side’ might be an understatement. The way they priced some of the items I happened upon was borderline delusional. $80 for a copy of Prince’s 1999 album – a record that hovers around $12 on Discogs – seemed exploitative. Many other fairly common items followed this pricing trend. After a bit I stopped even looking as it seemed too dangerous for my budget.
But all that said, it was a great experience. Perhaps I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted in many of the stores but it did serve as a nice ‘preview’ for future outings. And the open bar, entertainment, bargains, giveaways and assortment of free goodies did make this well-worth the asking price.
– Dave (a/k/a Dan, hehe)