From 1996 – 1999, I worked at a New York City record store called Rebel Rebel. I was a student at NYU when I got the job, and then I graduated from school but stayed at the shop. These were the Golden Years, although we didn’t realize it at the time.
Rebel was located in Manhattan’s West Village, on Bleecker Street between Grove and Christopher, and when I worked there, we were literally surrounded by record stores. Record Runner was around one corner, Rockit Scientist around another, and House Of Oldies around yet another. We had one Kim’s Music And Video outpost maybe three blocks to the west of us, and a different Kim’s Music And Video outpost maybe eight blocks to the east. Bleecker Street Records was two minutes away. Other Music was 10 minutes away. Across the street from Other Music was Tower Records. If you made a left out of Rebel and kept walking in that direction just long enough to cross 6th Avenue, you’d hit Bleecker Bob’s, Second Coming, and Generation Records before getting to Washington Square Park. There was a record store whose name I never knew literally across the street from Rebel, and another record store whose name I never knew two blocks away. There were at least half a dozen more that I sorta remember, and probably two dozen more that I’ve forgotten entirely.
I’m not kidding about the Golden Years thing; my time at Rebel coincided exactly with the US music industry’s peak moment, and when I finally left — to get a real job — the arrow made an abrupt downward turn. Here, Business Insider made a chart. Just look at all that gold.
I’m not kidding about the Golden Years thing; my time at Rebel coincided exactly with the US music industry’s peak moment, and when I finally left — to get a real job — the arrow made an abrupt downward turn. Here, Business Insider made a chart. Just look at all that gold:
Soon after that, the stores started closing. The reason was piracy, they told us, and iPods, and iTunes, but that wasn’t the real reason, I don’t think. I think the stores closed because big-box chains like Best Buy started treating CDs as loss leaders, as bait, offering them at less than wholesale — that is, selling them for $2 or $3 below what they paid for them. (It was pretty common for independent shops to send floor employees to Best Buy every Tuesday to scoop up armfuls of new releases for $10 apiece, which would then be marked up to suggested retail for sale in the store.)
I mean, look, the stores were probably gonna close anyway eventually, but the way it happened — everything all at once like that — they didn’t even have a chance to defend themselves. Piracy was nibbling at the edges, and the iPod offered a powerful alternative to physical product, but the big-boxes made it IMPOSSIBLE to compete, to adapt. There were too many forces working against the record stores, so they started blinking out like Christmas lights.
It wasn’t just one thing, but it’s never just one thing. It was a lot of things conspiring. And then, the collapse.