Other Music has been a staple in the East Village since the mid-1990s. Hilary Swift for The New York Times
When Other Music, the scrappy East Village record store, opened in 1995, it existed in the shadow of Tower Records, which ran the entire city block across East Fourth Street. By 1998, Virgin Megastore was a short walk away in Union Square.
Yet Other Music, known for its dedication to underground and experimental artists, outlived both — Tower shut its 89 American stores in 2006, while Virgin closed in 2009. In the face of a shrinking music industry, the longevity of this small shop could be seen as a win for the niche, the curated, even the slightly snobby. But it couldn’t last.
As sales of physical music continue to plummet, a no-frills independent record store makes increasingly less sense as a business: Other Music will shut its doors and mail-order service on June 25, more than 20 years after its debut in this once artistically vibrant neighborhood. (Other Music Recording Co., a label associated with the store since 2012, will continue.)
“We still do a ton of business — probably more than most stores in the country,” said Josh Madell, 45, a co-owner of Other Music, from behind the counter last week. “It’s just the economics of it actually supporting us — we don’t see a future in it. We’re trying to step back before it becomes a nightmare.”
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Business has dropped by half since the store’s peak in 2000, when it did about $3.1 million in sales, said Chris Vanderloo, who founded the shop with Mr. Madell and Jeff Gibson after the three met as employees at the music spinoff of Kim’s Video in the early ’90s. (Mr. Gibson left Other Music’s day-to-day operations in 2001.)
Rent, on the other hand, has more than doubled from the $6,000 a month the store paid in 1995, while its annual share of the building’s property tax bill has also increased.
Chris Vanderloo, left, and Josh Madell, two founders of Other Music. Hilary Swift for The New York Times
Then there are the dreary industry trends: In 2015, streaming nearly doubled from the previous year while CDs sales were down 82 percent from their peak in 2001. And despite the resurgence of vinyl, which now makes up about 60 percent of Other Music’s revenue, up from about 20 percent in its first 10 years, there’s no real salvation in sight.
“Pre-Internet we were a mecca for people,” Mr. Madell said. “They would come to New York with $300 in their pocket because they’d heard or read about some records that they’d never seen anywhere.”
Mac McCaughan, a founder of the band Superchunk and the indie giant Merge Records, said that record shops were part of what brought him to the city in the 1980s. As they started disappearing, “Other Music was the perfect record store in a city that needed a record store,” he wrote in an email. “I always found stuff I was looking for or discovered stuff I didn’t know I was looking for.”
A staff knowledgeable about esoteric genres — ambient music, free jazz, ’70s German psychedelic, ’60s French pop — served as spirit guides.
“That’s what a place like this was all about,” Mr. Madell said. “But the customers don’t come in with the same sort of needs anymore. If they want to know what something sounds like, they just pull it up online.”
Along with its meticulous selection, Other Music made a name with its intimate connections to indie acts and labels. The store was early to champion local bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and Vampire Weekend, selling homemade releases and hosting in-store performances. Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel also played there over the years.
Patrons browse the offerings at the store. Vinyl is big at Other Music, but streaming has taken a toll on business. Hilary Swift for The New York Times
“I felt involved in helping these artists reach an audience,” Mr. Madell said. “This is where you needed to be if you wanted to be on top of what was happening.”
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Now physical products are often “an afterthought,” he added, even for larger bands like Radiohead, whose new single and album were released first digitally, with vinyl and CDs coming weeks or months later. The annual Record Store Day, in which artists provide stores with exclusive releases, can help only so much.
“The energy of music obviously has moved out of a place like this,” said Mr. Madell, who admitted that CDs now look “like floppy disks” to him.
The New York music scene has also moved across the East River. “When we opened, Brooklyn was not even on the map really for music culture,” he added. “Now that is definitely where you’re going to be.”
As Manhattan stores continue to close — notable survivors include Bleecker Street Records and Generation Records on Thompson Street, though both focus more on used titles — shops are opening in Brooklyn, though usually with more to offer.
Rough Trade NYC, a 15,000-square-foot spinoff of the London store that opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2013, has a cafe and a performance space, among other flourishes.
“From the very beginning, we’ve always been a record store,” Mr. Madell said. “It’s about people coming in here and getting lost in music, in new releases. We just never wanted to reinvent or dilute it as something else. For better or worse.”
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