Record Stores and Book Stores: The End of An Era? Or Of Our Misplaced Sentimentality?

I read that Bleecker Bob’s Records in New York City’s Greenwich Village was closing its doors this month, after (I believe) four decades in business. As the publishing world continues to change, I will admit, I do look to the music business for lessons learned as book stores face a similar challenge – and perhaps fate – as record stores.

I paid a final visit to Bleecker Bob’s yesterday, and catalog it in detail via nearly 50 photos below. As I looked through the photos, I found it to be a reflection – perhaps a meditation – on my own sentimentality towards record and book stores.

Bleecker Bob’s always seemed to represent more than it really was. The last time I visited there was likely 20 years ago, and I don’t think I purchased anything then because their prices were always much higher than other record stores, with little real gold to be found. Going there was a bit of a pilgrimage, perhaps like going to CBGB’s, which I never got around to going to. You go there to play a role of who you hope to be. To be a tourist, idealizing another time and place.

At places like Bleecker Bob’s or CBGB’s or other New York City establishments, you can’t help but wonder: did Joey Ramone stand in this very spot? Does the fact that I stand here now, somehow connect me to this legend?

I am sentimental about Bleecker Bob’s closing, not really for what it is, but what it represents. For memories I have of an era – of similar record stores and a time when their existence was primary in my life. When I step into this store, part of me treats it like a museum, or more likely, of an endangered species that I am studying and capturing before it is wiped from existence.

Which reminds me of a line from a Cure song:

“Tell me who doesn’t love, what can never come back.”

Publishing is going through this as well. Books vs ebooks. Book stores vs online retailers. Publishers vs self-publishing. Many folks are sentimental amidst the changes, and I can’t blame them. Even when excited about the shift – the potential for what can be, I can’t help but notice aspects of the experience of reading and publishing that are changing.

As I walked through Bleecker Bob’s, there was a reality that I couldn’t help but notice: I had headphones on, listening to an MP3 I downloaded that morning. Yes, I own a very nice record player and fully believe that records provide a vastly better audio experience than digital music. But… that record player doesn’t get much use now that I have a toddler at home. And even when I do buy records, I don’t buy them at Bleecker Bob’s, I go to Princeton Record Exchange, or use Insound.com.

Is Bleecker Bob’s closing emblematic of the times, or merely the skyhigh New York City rent?

I can’t help but feel that even with these changes, there has never been a better time to be a musician or writer. That it is easier to create your work and find an audience now, than it ever has been in the past. That the closing of a store such as this is not symbolic of the state of creation, but the state of commerce.

Below is a photo tour of Bleecker Bob’s. As you look through the photos, do you find them quaint, emblematic of a better time, or merely a museum piece? The final photo is of the wooden floor in front of the main counter. After all these years, it is amazing to see this organic material still holding out. Still supporting customers. That amidst the changes in fashion, music, and the industry that feeds this store, it has remained worn, but unchanged.

Bleecker Bob's Records

Bleecker Bob's Records

Bleecker Bob's Records

Bleecker Bob's Records

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Bleecker Bob's Records

Bleecker Bob's Records