It's Tuesday, which means record stores around the country are unpacking boxes of new CDs to put out on their shelves. But even at great stores, you can't always find the albums you want. Sometimes the store has a particular specialty, sometimes the local audience doesn't support a genre, sometimes the price of an album doesn't justify the shelf space. Each Tuesday, we call record stores to see which new albums they've got in stock, and which they expect their customers to buy.
This week, we checked in with James Bradley, the owner of the Williamsburg, Brooklyn store Sound Fix Records. Bradley's is a classic indie store — split evenly between new CDs, used CDs and vinyl. I called him to check in on six brand new releases (with almost universally monochromatic covers apart from that Nellie McKay ... hmmm, perhaps that's another blog post) and to see how the neighborhood has changed since Sound Fix opened.
On the phone, Bradley describes the store's customers as "white, [aged] between 25 and 35, and the majority would be men. Their tastes would veer toward what we call the Indie end of the spectrum."
In keeping with this profile, this week Sound Fix is stocking new Neil Young, Deerhunter, and No Age records, but not the new albums by Gucci Mane, Kenny Chesney or Nellie McKay. Last week's top seller was "either The Walkmen or Blonde Redhead — they were neck and neck" and Bradley expects Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest to win this week's sales contest for new releases. "They're hugely popular and that record is getting great reviews. It's also happens to be a really great record. I expect it to do really well."
Bradley opened Sound Fix on Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg's main drag, in April 2004. At the time, he said, he was "trying to change the model a bit for record stores." So Sound Fix's original location was connected to a cafe, and later a bar, where local bands could play shows — the store was a week-long party each fall during the CMJ festival.
Last year, the bar closed, and negotiations for a long-term lease in the store's original location fell apart. "My landlady [was] — how to put it nicely — psychotic," Bradley says. "She didn't get the neighborhood at all." So Bradley moved Sound Fix one block away, to what he calls "the next best" street in the neighborhood.
"It has certainly hurt being off Bedford Avenue," he says. "There was lots of foot traffic there. I think we often caught people walking home on their way from work and the light boxes with album covers in front of the store would catch their eye."
The original location opened just as Williamsburg was becoming the center of the Indie music scene, with bands like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear reaching larger audiences. The wider awareness of the Brooklyn scene has helped turn the neighborhood into a destination for international record shoppers.
"We get a lot of business from tourists," Bradley says, who flock to the neighborhood for its reputation as hipster central. "Williamsburg is the new Mecca for record stores in New York. It used to be the East Village, but now people come here."
Sound Fix caters to an audience that wants physical product: vinyl sales have skyrocketed during the store's six-year lifespan (the store is carrying Le Noise, Halcyon Digest and Everything In Between on both CD and vinyl LP). But Bradley says the industry's ability to produce vinyl hasn't caught up with his store's increased demand. "We'll sell a bunch of copies in the first week something new comes out, and then it'll take a month to restock," he says. "There's a reason the music industry loved CDs. They're cheap and easy to produce."
But even if the demand for vinyl continues to rise, Bradley doesn't see the industry tide changing.
"These days, I think the record industry is looking to make their money on licensing. They're all making vinyl, but they don't see it as a real investment. I don't know why there isn't some millionaire who doesn't open a couple of plants. From what I hear, the pressing plants that are out there are in operation 24 hours a day. They never stop pressing."
The store made local headlines last week after a posting showed up on Craigslist offering ownership of the store for $250,000. Bradley says the ad was real, but the move has been widely misunderstood — the store is not in danger of going under. Instead, it's a matter of the hours in a day.
"I've been working for a magazine full time, so I'm very busy," he says. "Businesses change ownership all the time. ... I'm hoping to stay on as a consultant or part owner or even an employee."