While the East Coast was battening down the hatches for a hefty weekend storm, specialty label Norton Records was doing the opposite: opening up shop. The independent outfit, which has made its name as the definitive provider of rockabilly reissues from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, unveiled its first storefront, the Norton Record Shop, in Prospect Heights on January 24 — a day after New York got pummeled by Winter Storm Jonas.
Unfortunately, Norton Records was already all too familiar with weather-induced setbacks. In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged its Red Hook warehouse; the label lost nearly its entire back catalog. But New Yorkers and faraway fans alike banded together, mounting various fundraisers to assist the imprint in getting back into its groove.
Rehabilitation of the warehouse is still under way. Meanwhile, Norton co-owner Miriam Linna notes that only 66 of the company’s titles have yet to be restored. “We will do it…by the end of 2016 we will have all our vinyl back in print,” she says.
Setbacks and discouragement have been crows circling Norton since its inception in 1986, when Linna and her husband and business partner, Billy Miller, released a collection of lo-fi rockabilly from one-man band Hasil Adkins. “We’ve gotten the classic eye-rolls our entire career,” Linna says. “When we put out the Hasil record, people said, ‘What the hell is this piece of crap?’ The hate part never affected us.”
Thirty years and hundreds of releases later, the duo have cut the ribbon on Norton Record Shop. Among other things, the brick-and-mortar location will allow Miller to get back into the New York music scene after recently losing a leg due to complications from diabetes. The couple began envisioning the store while Miller was in the hospital last August; they soon found a suitably cozy spot within walking distance of their Prospect Heights home.
Linna moved to New York City from Ohio in 1976, working for Red Star Records — known for signing Suicide — and later for over a decade at the Strand. “I learned everything I ever learned about selling books, and records, or working in any kind of a business, from Fred Bass,” she says of the bookstore’s owner. “Every book had worth to someone, and there’s a customer for everything.”
That philosophy has seeped into Norton’s DNA. “It’s not a matter of making things obscure or rare and so on. Our attitude is to make records available to people and make them available at a price that everybody can afford,” Linna says. “We don’t want to be elitist…. We’d rather have people spend fifty bucks on ten great records rather than fifty bucks on one record that they’re going to have to be careful with — they can do that here, too, but for the kids with some change in their pocket, they’ll be able to come in and buy a $2 record or $1 magazine.”
Norton Record Shop
Open daily, 12–8 p.m.
595 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn