Record Store Review (and RIP): Bleecker Bob’s
As you may have heard by now, legendary record store Bleecker Bob’s is closing in May. Long rumored, now official, a frozen yogurt chain has a lease on Bob’s West 3rd Street location that begins on June 1 (and no – they won’t sell records). Over at Dangerous Minds you can read a nice, sweet eulogy of the store that Robert “Bob” Plotnik opened in Greenwich Village in 1968. Bob is kind of a hero, quitting the law and opening up a record shop that outlasted CBGBs, the rock and punk booms, the demise of vinyl (and cassettes, and CDs, and eventually all music sales) and even his own health, as Bob suffered a stroke and had to turn day-to-day management of the store over to others. All of which makes it even harder for me to say what many others won’t: Bleecker Bob’s, it is time you closed up shop.
Once the place to get new and used vinyl, Bob’s never quite emerged from the 1970s and has been living off of its (well-earned) reputation ever since. As it says in the Dangerous Minds piece, “When punk and disco hit the scene, people who had stopped buying records started again with real passion. I know I did. Bob’s shop was packed in the late ‘70s—lines snaking out the door and Bob barking at people to keep it moving. If you browsed too long without buying, you were out of there.” Nowadays, despite the massive revival of vinyl (up 360% in the past five years), and the store’s great location and fame, Bob’s is often bereft of customers. Many will blame rising New York City rents and/or the struggling music retail business for Bob’s closing, but other neighborhood stores such as Generation Records on Thompson St. and East Village stores like Kim’s have succeeded in the face of these same obstacles. So why not Bob’s?
First of all, price. While not absurdly above-market (as one Yelper states), the prices at Bob’s are consistently higher than at other stores, even among their peers in NYC. It’s not impossible to find an album you’re looking for at a reasonable price, but those are few and far between. The high prices lead to a second major problem, which is selection. Historically, Bob’s was known for carrying the most complete and deepest collection of rock, punk and alternative music, but by 2012 the racks were filled with the same-old-stuff, albums that hadn’t sold after what is likely years of sitting there and likely won’t sell before the gates are shuttered for good. On my most-recent visit (about one week ago) what I found was mostly boring 80s music, and despite their “closing sale” I didn’t buy anything other than a new 180gram vinyl of Joy Division’s Closer (yes, I know, I need to break away from my recent JD obsession!).
So why are so many rending their garments in light of the store’s closing? Because while Bob’s isn’t currently a place for vinyl shoppers, it still functions as a kind of music/scene museum, and even I like to stop in from time to time as a way of paying homage to a NYC landmark. Another Yelper gave the store 5 stars as recently as 2010, though his commentary serves to explain why Bob’s is no longer a good place to shop:
I love Bleecker Bob’s Records. The staff is great and they have a great selection. If these walls could talk they would tell punk rock stories of the Ramones and the entire New York scene. The history of Bleecker Bob’s is worth the price of the records. … If you want to feel a piece of New York punk, hardcore and rock n’ roll history go to Bleecker Bob’s and get some great records at the same time.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I don’t agree that the history is worth the price of the records. The sales staff and the atmosphere are still top-notch, and in someone else’s hands – perhaps Bob’s himself if he were in good health – the store could have survived as both a piece of NYC history and as a good used vinyl shop. But without the latter there’s no place for the former. The people decrying the closing of Bob’s as further evidence of the difficulty of owning an independent music store are missing the point. There are many terrific independent music stores throughout NYC and Brooklyn. Bleecker Bob’s was no longer one of them. The fact that it had an amazing 45 year run should be applauded and held up as a sign for other up-and-coming stores that they can succeed too. In my mind, the closing of Bleecker Bob’s isn’t a failure, it is the closing chapter in a story of fabulous success. (And if you still want to wax nostalgic, you can watch a documentary about Bleecker Bob’s here.)
Bottom line: R.I.P. Bleecker Bob’s. You’re time has passed but you won’t be forgotten.
Quick stats (circa 2012-13):
- Sells used, new, or both: Used
- Genres: Classic Rock, Rock, some pop/other
- Non-vinyl for sale: CDs, Posters, Photos, assorted music memorabilia
- Selection: 6 out of 10
- Price: 3 out of 10
- Atmosphere: 10 out of 10
- Ease of browsing/shopping: 8 out of 10
- Used vinyl condition: 8 out of 10
- Yelp rating: 3-1/2 stars