For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Academy Records.
The Village has lost a parade of record shops recently: Rockit Scientist, Norman’s Sound & Vision, Gimme Gimme, Tropicalia in Furs, and Big City have all shuttered in the past year, and the future of Bleecker Bob’s hangs in the balance. Today DNA Info reports the Greenwich Village mainstay may end up sharing space with a fro-yo store. But none of that gives Mike Davis, owner of Academy Records at 415 East 12th Street, the blues. He points out that record stores are still opening, though mainly in Brooklyn. “There are so many articles about the struggle of record stores,” he told The Local. “Honestly, I think it’s exaggerated. Records are still a thing; business is good.” In fact, Mr. Davis said that selling vinyl is the easy part. “My main worry is getting good record collections,” he said.
We needled him for information about how, exactly, he has managed to stay open since 2001 without gathering dust.
What’s your biggest challenge as a record store owner?
The main challenge is to constantly revise your approach and business model. A lot of stores I’ve seen just stock the same records at the same prices year after year and don’t realize that their customer base is changing and evolving. The truths of the business change over time and you have to change with them.
How do you get the good stuff?
Word-of-mouth. We have a good reputation so our customers are loyal and sell off their own collection throughout their time as collectors.
Do you have a business model?
My business model is to sell all kinds of music that anyone is interested in. There are more and more reissues of old titles. Collecting these is now more and more common. I joke that keeping up with the past is harder and harder to do. Right now is the golden age of the unknown past from all around the world. There is also a trend of new artists releasing on vinyl versus CD. Virtually any artist will make a point of releasing their stuff on vinyl now.
Does that include Top 40 stuff? So many DJs play what is on the radio.
I will start stocking more mainstream people soon. My customers want it. I find that while they like obscure and unknown sounds, they also want Lady Gaga. There is a lot of mixing in people’s listening habits. People are more open-minded to all of that. The same people that buy my unknown, unissued African psychedelic stuff can also buy Taylor Swift. The purity of being a collector is crumbling in a way.
You’ve been the 12th Street spot for about six years now. How did you come to be at this location?
Well, I started out working at Academy Bookstore and when they started doing records in the back, the collection just kept getting bigger and bigger. So they bought the space next door on 18th Street and I helped open that. I approached the owner, Joseph, about opening my own space and he’s now a silent partner. First I opened it as just a record and CD shop on 77 East 10th Street off Fourth Avenue but then I left about six years ago because the landlord there was trying to annex my space to the corner space so he could jack up the monthly rent. That space has sat empty for years now – it never rented.
You now have more than just the East Village store to bring in revenue. How does the larger Williamsburg store compare to the East Village one?
Williamsburg is mostly a used records store but we do have a small used CD selection. We also do some online too. Foot traffic on my block in Williamsburg [North Sixth Street] is through the roof, especially on summer weekends.
Do you have other revenue streams?
A few years back I started a label of old African rock, psychedelic and soul music. I’m doing an unissued release of Karen Dalton music from 1968 that’s coming out in the summer. It’s amazing, the best I’ve ever heard. I have pretty good distribution so it will be in stores worldwide
Have you felt your material costs and bills change a lot over the years?
It’s a little different for records. My costs aren’t always material costs. Records aren’t what they used to be price-wise; they are more expensive. “Antiques Roadshow” and “Pawnstars” have made used records much more expensive. People are more aware that old used stuff is worth money, so people can have unrealistic ideas of what to pay. I am only willing to pay a fair price — not more than what I can sell it for. Electricity, insurance, garbage collection and getting supplies associated with records like plastic and shipping costs for online purchases, have all gone up. I’m not in as bad a place as pizza and bagel and flower shops, but there are still cost challenges.
How has your rent changed?
It was $5,000 when I moved in. I signed the lease again last December for $6,000 for the next five years. It’s not cheap, but it’s not exorbitant. Plus, I know my rent costs for the next five years wont go up.
What is the coolest piece of vinyl you’ve gotten your hands on lately?
Garage 45s from Peru. It sounds like American garage, but it tends to be a little rawer and wilder than American stuff because the recording was done under cruder conditions.