Rolling Stones’ hit Sympathy for the Devil commands the air as I enter the West Village’s beloved record store, Bleecker Bob’s. Reports of the store’s closing led me to Ski, an employee of the shop “on and off” since 2005, to learn more about this 40-year business and their possible future.
This wooden floored music heaven features t-shirts hanging from the ceiling and walls covered by posters: Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Cure and the Beatles. As the fourth or fifth location that Bob Plotnick has owned since he began in record sales in 1968, the place is truly a time warp and would take a lot of work and an estimated quarter of a million dollars in renovations to get the space, which used to host Night Owl Cafe, up to code. This place is dripping with character and the staff is dripping with edge – it is heartbreaking that the West Village staple is nearing its end. Though there is no definite date set for the closing, store representative, Ski confirms that they are going out of business. With past discussion of the store moving East, he does not rule out that option but points to the store and explains that they “don’t need all this space,” and shares another possible option: moving all sales online and have only a showroom. This legendary storefront has been featured on Seinfeld, referenced in Beastie Boys lyrics, and visited by Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan, but the Bob of Bleecker Bob’s can barely come to the store himself anymore at 60 years old after experiencing a stroke. The best times for the shop were the 70’s and 80’s in the punk era, according to Ski, who will let me photograph the store but not him since “there are too many people looking for me.” He goes on to explain that they obtain some of their merchandise from “sketchy characters.” With vinyls and CD’s everywhere, both used and new, the store also boasts memorabilia from pins to books available for purchase. The bin of “vintage pulp fiction” located near the register alludes to just the kind of quirk this place has. The gentrification of New York centers around this neighborhood and this grungy store would need to adapt or leave in order to keep up. Rent is driving this famed music destination elsewhere, and unless the landlord comes down on the price, there is no other option than for Bleecker Bob’s to close. Some people have contacted the store to help, but it is unclear what they can do at this point. Ski questions the callers that freak out on the phone as if the world is ending: “When was the last time you shopped here?” I can’t say I’m not guilty as I browse and appreciate the ambiance and history of the store, but leave without making a purchase. I can say, I was pleased to meet you, Bleecker Bob’s. I won’t forget your name.