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New York City’s Good Records Is a Vinyl Lover’s Paradise

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The East Vil­lage, bun­dled neatly be­tween Green­wich and Gramercy, is home to such mini-neighborhoods as Al­pha­bet City (think Prince) and The Bow­ery (think Joan Baez). It’s the birth­place of the New York punk rock scene, the base for the beat­nik move­ment, and the site of many his­tor­i­cal protests and ri­ots. As I ambled along the nar­row tree-lined streets with store­fronts boast­ing hand-painted signs from gen­er­a­tions past, I came upon a pink build­ing. Not just pink, but cot­ton candy pink. I felt like Hansel and Gre­tel must have felt as they emerged from the woods to find the witch’s gin­ger­bread house. It was a record store, sim­ply called Good Records.

I ex­pected an over-the-top queen sashay­ing across leop­ard print rugs, boas draped across be­jew­eled lamp shades. What greeted me instead was a very taste­ful, high-end bou­tique record store filled with not just good records, but very, very good records. I knew that I had stum­bled into the collector’s cor­ner of vinyl.

The walls were neatly lined with rare, ob­scure and weird ar­ti­facts; from a dou­ble vinyl, single-sided test press­ing of the first Led Zep­pelin al­bum to a 12-inch Public En­emy record. Then I saw the bar­gain bins un­der­neath, where every­thing was a buck. And they were very, very good as well. Sim­ply put, no crap here… Bil­lie Hol­i­day, The Bea­t­les, Radiohead.

Glanc­ing up, there was an Afrika Bam­baataa vinyl on the wall, and I was im­me­di­ately trans­ported back to the 80s, to the punk rev­o­lu­tion and to “speak about destruc­tion, speak about de­struc­tion, the hu­man race is be­com­ing a disgrace.”

“That record’s a real piece of his­tory,” a voice be­hind me ex­plained. “It’s a live DJ set that he did be­fore peo­ple were even call­ing it hip hop. This is hip hop on wax. The mix­ing tech­niques are re­ally prim­i­tive, but that record is ba­si­cally to­tal gen­e­sis of the whole cul­ture on vinyl.”

Meet Jonathan Sklute, owner of Good Records and mu­sic afi­cionado. Born and raised in Berke­ley, he ven­tured to the east coast in 1995 for school. Like many of us trans­plants, New York cap­tured his heart and he stayed.

Sklute calls Harlem home. “One of the last bas­tions of old New York,” as he puts it. “It’s a place of amaz­ing ar­chi­tec­ture with a con­stant theme of mu­sic and cultural her­itage and a beau­ti­ful spirit of the peo­ple. There’s a cer­tain ‘neigh­bor­hood­ness’ about Harlem, that you miss in other parts of the city.”

Ini­tially, Sklute was work­ing a very New York kind of job; high-stress, high-impact for a fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany. As time went on, he would look in the mir­ror and be­come in­creas­ingly dis­sat­is­fied with his ca­reer. He hated go­ing to work and he knew it was time for a change. Al­ready a pas­sion­ate record col­lec­tor and musi­cian, it made per­fect sense to open a record store.

But to say that this is just a record store is like say­ing New York is just a lit­tle chilly in the win­ter. The floors are spot­less. The bins (even the bar­gain bins) are neatly lined and well or­ga­nized. And the store boasts some­thing New York shops typ­i­cally have lit­tle of—walking space.

“Well, it’s New York City,” he ex­plains. “An in­ter­na­tional, bou­tique en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not like dig­ging in a ware­house. Every­thing should be mint; it should be clean, in a brand new poly sleeve. It’s only right.”

Good Records is ex­actly that: Good Records. Not Good CDs or Good Tapes or Good Posters; sim­ply Good Records.

“To­day there are a mil­lion ar­ti­cles about how the only printed me­dia that’s grow­ing cus­tomers is vinyl, and I think the mu­sic and the for­mat both got dis­pos­able at a cer­tain point. That’s not a judg­ment, that’s just the way it is. Tech­nol­ogy has be­come more and more ca­pa­ble of con­dens­ing our cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence into a small space. I think peo­ple want some­thing more. A sense of own­er­ship. You can pull out a record and play it and read the liner notes, and it’s just more real.”

The price point for records is typ­i­cally about $15. But that’s an av­er­age be­tween the dol­lar bins and the high end wall stuff. The most ex­pen­sive record Sklute ever sold was a rare R&B 45 from the 70s, which brought in $2500. “That’s not huge in the realm of rare 45s; some will crack five or six thou­sand. But that was my per­sonal best.”

“Part of the rea­son we spe­cial­ize in the more ob­scure, off-the-beaten path kind of stuff,” he ex­plains, “is be­cause peo­ple do have ac­cess to every­thing these days. But I be­lieve in vinyl. Peo­ple be­lieve in vinyl.”

I agree, I tell him. There is magic in the dust and grooves of a record. Mem­o­ries are stored there. We all re­mem­ber what we were lis­ten­ing to when we lost our vir­gin­ity, or when our par­ents busted us smok­ing. We remember who was wail­ing while we nursed our bro­ken hearts. Those are the spe­cial songs, and they are pre­served with great care and love at Good Records in the Lower East Side.

For me, that mu­sic was G&R, vi­sions of tat­toos melt­ing in the heat. For Jonathan, that record was by Nas.

“It came out when I was about 15 or 16, at an age when every­thing was height­ened. I re­mem­ber not only the first time I lis­tened to it. I re­mem­ber the en­tire day. We cut class to get on a bus and go to the record store. I think I was the only kid who bought it on vinyl. Rap was still re­ally un­der­ground and re­bel­lious. Metal had a tone of re­bel­lion too, but it was on MTV and the ra­dio. Rap wasn’t. Rap was for tough guys and I wanted to be a tough guy. The great thing about this job is that I get to re­live those ex­pe­ri­ences every day. I get to find things that are as good as you’ve ever heard, but you’ve never heard it be­fore. And that’s magic.”

The store it­self is not over­stuffed or over­whelm­ing. The ex­posed brick walls and hard­wood floors in­vite you to chat with Sklute and his col­leagues. But af­ter watch­ing him sell the funk record he was play­ing (right off the turntable), af­ter watch­ing him ne­go­ti­ate buy­ing records from a for­mer ra­dio DJ, af­ter hear­ing lit­tle-known sto­ries be­hind the mu­sic and af­ter watch­ing scores of peo­ple wan­der in and out with bags of trea­sures, a most im­por­tant ques­tion still re­mained: why pink?

“The land­lord told me, and I don’t know how true it is, but his grand­fa­ther who orig­i­nally owned the build­ing was color blind, so when he went to choose the paint, they were all just shades of gray to him, so he just chose a lighter shade of pale. But you can see this bright pink stuff from Brooklyn.”

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