I don’t expect this is the sort of thing that most people who read this blog will care about. But it’s what I feel like writing about tonight!
Today I’m in mourning for what would appear to be the death of a true NYC landmark – J&R Music World.
J&R opened in 1971 on Park Row near City Hall. It was started as a part time thing to earn some money while Rachelle Friedman, the “R” in J&R, was still in college working on her Chemistry degree.
My friend Jimmy and I discovered it very soon after that. It was a small basement shop selling an amazing selection of records at discount prices. Somehow they managed to stock almost any album you could think of in every possible genre – and sold them for prices noticeably cheaper than the other record stores in town, cheap enough to make it worth the subway ride all the way downtown. They sold other stuff as well, but I went there for the records.
Here’s a story about J&R that few people know. The store was owned by Joe and Rachelle Friedman, who were (and presumably still are) observant Jews. So the store was closed on Saturdays. So other stores selling records and stereo equipment opened up near by, and they remained open on Saturdays. Finally one Saturday they found themselves in the neighborhood and said, “We’ve never seen what the store looks like all closed up on a Saturday. Let’s walk over and take a look.” From a distance, they noticed a paper sign taped up on the gates. They got closer and saw what the sign said. “J&R Music World out of business. Go shop at xxxx one block down.” After that, they started opening on Saturdays.
The store grew and grew. They’d rent space in surrounding buildings and had separate stores for CDs, DVDs, stereo and video equipment, photography equipment, computers, anything and everything – they stocked it, they had a great selection and they had cheap prices. At their largest, the store was over 300,000 square feet. Long before Tower Records came to New York, they had the best jazz, classical and world music departments of any record store in New York. They had the best selections of laser discs, DVDs and presumably Blu-Ray discs.
They expanded to mail order and Internet sales and, according to Wikipedia, at some point they had a smaller shop near Columbia University and at some point they were doing something in the basement of the main Macy’s. Plenty of my friends worked there and I could have ended up working there as well if I hadn’t stumbled into a career in IT.
In the early 90s, when I was working on Wall Street, I probably shopped there at least 2 or 3 times a week. But I don’t think I’ve been there since I left NYC in 1995 – even on my annual return visits to the city, it’s not an area that I ever got to any more. But that still means I shopped there regularly for more than 20 years.
People stopped buying CDs and DVDs and found other places to buy stereos, TVs and computers. The entire retail consumer electronics industry has been struggling in the US for years. Big box chains have closed across the country and I suppose it was just a matter of time for this independent giant as well.
And this week the store closed. All of the staff were laid off. The Friedmans have said that they plan to build a new store, “an unprecedented retailing concept and social mecca.” But I wonder if that will really happen. The Friedmans have to be in their 60s at least, and I’ve got no idea if their children are involved in the business.
Farewell J&R and thanks for the memories.