At the top of the week, it’s Tuesday night’s R&B lover. Wednesday, it’s the buyer with disco fever. And every other day, chances are you’ll find Ski. These are the people who are buying records. These are the people keeping Bleecker Bob’s alive—but only as long as the moment allows.
This musical mainstay, which began as Village Oldies Records in 1968, will be shutting its doors at 118 West Third Street after nearly 45 years of operation—not to mention 45 years of rock ’n’ roll memories. With a rent hike pending, the business can only hope that a relocation—not a permanent close—will again be entertained.
Bleecker Bob’s has been witness to its fair share of changes over the years. From forwarding addresses to music trends, adapting to the ages has been a trait vital to its survival.
Bob Plotnik, the business’s namesake, is no longer a staple behind the counter. Suffering a stroke around the time of the attacks on 9/11, the man who built the business has stepped back. One of its employees, however, has offered a new presence.
Ski, the manager of Bleecker Bob’s, embarked on a love affair with vinyl in his early teens and has been buying from then on. If you enter his apartment, a flood of records greets you, and time is a witness to its rising levels. Even in his love life, the desire for a raw, pure sound has seeped its way in. As a flirtatious game, Ski will have his girlfriend call out a number, and he will put on the corresponding record.
The same type of water wall hits customers inside Bleecker Bob’s. Organized by material—cassette, CD, vinyl, and poster—and then alphabetically by genre, they browse the long stretch of boxed records, looking left to right, right to left across the aisle. This, in itself, is another game and allows a person to stumble across something they weren’t particularly seeking, something he or she will deem a treasure.
Most music buyers at Bleecker Bob’s are not looking for modern forms of a favorite band or musician—they want the LPs that are coming back with a vengeance in today’s pop culture. The numbers reflect these preferences, says Ski, with used records responsible for 80 percent of Bleecker Bob’s sales compared to between 15 and 20 percent by CDs.
“I ain’t exactly getting rich here,” said Ski. “We’re kinda at the mercy of the public.” The same can be said of Bleecker Bob’s.
While the popularity of vinyl is resurgent, it is not enough to compete with the overall decrease in music sales. At the peak of record circulation in the ’70s and ’80s, business was flourishing. Though there can be found charm in carrying a pile of cumbersome circles, most music consumers want the portability, and if the same product can be compressed into a single device, that will be the forerunning option.
Barely making profit, the business is also tasked with making rent. Inversely to the direction of music sales, the price of space in the city is soaring. Ski attributes this to the “changification of New York.” The store, which he says is already getting creative in its ways of saving money and, in parallel, the business, cannot feasibly make a higher rent. Thus, with rent increasing to $15,000 to $20,000 per month—$3,000 to $8,000 higher than what is currently paid—Bleecker Bob’s will not be renewing its lease. Enter the looming move, a move not just around the block but out of business altogether.
Through the years, the business has relocated a number of times, but now it looks as if another, more affordable location is not on the table. For now, Bleecker Bob’s is experimenting with blogging and e-bay sales. Facebook and MySpace pages are also tried as a means of promotion and marketing.
“We’re kinda providing a service here,” Ski says, and as long as it can remain afloat, Bleecker Bob’s will try to meet the music needs of its surrounding metropolitan clientele.