Last week, myself, fellow MusicTAPper Robert Ross, and most music lovers in the New York/New Jersey area got the bad news: the near-legendary record store Vintage Vinyl on Rte. 1 in Fords, NJ, would be shutting its doors permanently at the end of July 2021.
I was saddened and disappointed by this news, but not surprised. One month prior, the store did an auction of their sizeable collection of signed memorabilia. Had this occurred in January, I’d have pegged it as an urgent move to get some pandemic revenue in the coffers. But in May-June? No, that sounded like an estate auction, and so it was.
The past two years have been very difficult for yours truly, and I would frequently get messages from Rob stating that the cure for these blues would be a Saturday outing of conspicuous music consumption and a carbs-heavy lunch. I didn’t take him up on the offers because I’m a miserable old man. (Know thyself!)
But here we are, and it truly is a sad event. Vintage Vinyl opened in the early 1980s. They supported independent music, were typically the go-to for that hard-to-find title, and during that period when people said, “Analog vinyl? Ew, yuck, poo-poo! That’s not cool!” Vintage Vinyl never gave up on the format that was their namesake, but the vinyl resurgence could not break the triple threat of the Roth family singlehandedly keeping this ship afloat for 40+ years, the devaluation of physical media because of streaming, and long periods of shuttered business because of a global pandemic. I hate saying “perfect storm,” but it was.
With Vintage Vinyl goes a culture. Throughout New Jersey, smaller music stores will attempt to take up the slack, but none of them have as committed a collection of rock, metal, punk, and classic titles. I’d speculate that the “Metal Mulisha” (Militia, depending on whose jean jacket you’re reading) of Old Bridge, a town in Central New Jersey that staked its reputation on the Megaforce Records label and clubs like Starland Ballroom, was supported directly by Vintage Vinyl’s wide-spanning acquisitions.
But it isn’t just punk and metal. Their subheading, “From the obvious to the obscure,” was not a hollow brag. Want to find the most bizarre, most European prog rock? Vintage Vinyl had Porcupine Tree CDs before anyone knew what Porcupine Tree was. Maybe your local Best Buy (at that time) has some XTC records, but Vintage Vinyl had all of them. Those pricey box sets or specialty booksets like the Jethro Tull reissue collection? Target won’t have them. Neither will WalMart, and sadly, neither will Vintage Vinyl now.
Now, I mentioned other record stores, and they still exist. Take for example Jack’s Music Shoppe in downtown Red Bank. Even the non-locals will know Jack’s as a location in the Kevin Smith movie Chasing Amy. So far, they’re still hanging in there, but it won’t be the same. Jack’s needs to be all things to all people to keep that prime location on Broad St. in Red Bank.
That’s a huge swinging sword of Damocles swaying above their heads. As a sort of hip location, Red Bank’s rents are notoriously high. I believe Jack, the proprietor of said store, owns his spot but I could be wrong. Nonetheless, the calculus in Downtown is that if you don’t turn profitable within six months, you’ll go out of business, guaranteed. It’s that expensive, and if you are selling a currently non-cool product like compact discs, you’re certainly running uphill.
My point is that the level of specificity that Vintage Vinyl achieved cannot be matched at a Jack’s or similar outlets. They need to be varied and because of their smaller real estate, they have to lean on product that is sure to move. They cannot afford to be curatorial the way Vintage Vinyl could. Even so, I wish Jack’s and similar outlets well. They represent the last of a species that even Record Store Day cannot save.
Vintage Vinyl joins stores in memory like Howell, N.J.’s The Record Store, the famous Tower Records chain, Record Town and Sam Goody’s in the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, N.J.., itself on the rocky edge of the precipice. These follow down the path that so many locations across the United States have slipped, to be replaced by Moe’s Mexican Foods, Jamba Juices, and Dunkin’s.
One day, someone will ask me what the heyday of Vintage Vinyl was like, and I’ll reply, “You had to be there to understand.”