Wednesday, Wall Street’s mecca of music, J&R Music World, unceremoniously closed its doors. According to New York Daily News, employees were handed their pink slips that day. Yesterday, customers looking to purchase from the electronics outlet were met with locked doors and a message on store’s website from owners Joe and Rachelle Friedman that it was shutting down to renovate and hopefully reemerge as an “unprecedented retailing concept and social mecca.”
First opening in 1971 as a basement record store, J&R perpetually expanded over the next 43 years, absorbing building after building until the location became a block-long sight to behold. The word “electronics giant” gets thrown around fairly liberally, but for an independent store to be as massive and diverse as J&R was, its status as a true juggernaut is undeniable.
There’s a lot to be said about J&R’s place in the hearts of New York music lovers. During the late ’00s when the likes of Tower Records, Circuit City and the Virgin Megastore were closing, as well as beloved independents like FatBeats, there’s was a belief that J&R would somehow always be around. One of the first stores to reopen following the September 11th attacks, a fact frequently mentioned in the majority of the store’s coverage, J&R just gave off the vibe that it owned its corner of New York and would continue to do its thing as long as there was a New York City.
As sad as it is to see J&R go, the prevalent emotion right now is one of utter confusion. After we’ve seen J&R’s one-time competitors drag out their closings over the course of months, diverting from that tradition of the slow goodbye into an abrupt “show’s over” is baffling. Factoring in that this is happening just-before the middle of April and roughly a week-and-a-half before Record Store Day, even the timing of this sudden closing is puzzling.
Losing J&R’s physical space is truly the end of an era in two ways. For one thing, the four-building Park Row set-up could be pointed to from pretty much anywhere in New York as a monument that people do still exchange currency for something physical that will play music for them. More intimately, however, J&R was really the last place you could go to in Manhattan and be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of music titles. While, yes, there are plenty of record stores and retailers like Best Buy that have music sections, none can really compare to the sheer enormity of J&R’s. The prices were fair-to-shockingly low, the organization was top notch and the selection was absurdly deep. If an indie anywhere in America had produced even the obscurest of compilations, J&R at some point was guaranteed to have at least one copy.
There was also the dedication that the store had to “music” that really set it apart. From the decorative displays of new releases to the constant stream of in-store performances and signings, enough was going on at J&R to make you feel like music was still a big deal. Whether you were in the mood for ultra-modernist composer Helmut Lachenmann conducting an atonal string quartet or Sir Mix-A-Lot’s take on Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” J&R had both within an escalator ride away from each other. For as much as we take the internet’s ability to give us essentially every song ever made whenever we want for granted, J&R offered a legit physical alternative with largely the same results.
Considering it’s been the last music giant standing for a half-decade now, J&R’s status as an innovator as well as a traditionalist music store is a unique New York legend. From predicting the vinyl resurgence to going all-out to make their in-store appearances feel like events, it was a music-loving New Yorker’s dream. Now that J&R as we knew it has essentially given us an “Irish goodbye” and left without a proper farewell, it’s at least allowed us to carry-on with only fond memories of the store at its strongest.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 11, 2014