I was downtown recently and noticed a huge change in Manhattan storefronts, the venerable J & R Music and Electronics Store had closed. This is a continuation of closures that have taken the majority of music stores and book stores such as Tower Records, HMV, Virgin, Borders and some Barnes & Nobles to name a few. While this is not a recent phenomenon, the closure of J&R hits a little harder since it is a New York original and maybe we should have seen it coming.
When I first moved to New York City over 16 years ago, the J & R stores encompassed a whole block. They had stores dedicated to cameras, music, household electronics, computers and video. I loved going from store to store and each location had experts willing to help with finding the perfect item for you. It held an iconic location across from City Hall and at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. I had gone there many times and have bought items ranging from cameras, to my first flat screen TV (which I still have and works to this day) to audio equipment, DVDs and CDs. My last purchase was less than a year ago when I got a great deal on a high end set of headphones. It was a great store and I hated to see it slowly diminish away. And diminish it did. When I stopped in November it had been scaled down to one multi-leveled store, the rest of the block empty with store to rent signs. I was surprised and saddened to see this and wondered how they had consolidated their entire inventory to fit. The recent liquidation auctions answered that question and now they are completely closed and operate strictly as an online business.
These continued closings are a result of a society that has moved more and more to online transactions. Retail e-commerce as grown every year. As more business is being done online from the comfort of our homes, less will be done in the brick and mortar stores of the past. I am guilty of purchasing digital content and I like everyone else love the ease and speed of getting content that way. But there is something about holding a real book in your hands instead of an iPad or listening to a an album from stereo speakers rather than tiny headphones.
As I write this another institution, Rizzoli's Book Store on 57th Street, has shuttered. Rizzoli's say they will re-open next year in a Flatiron District location. J&R says they will reopen as well on the corner of Park Row in the future, however when it does I predict it will be a shadow of it's former self. This kind of business model unfortunately is just not profitable anymore, especially in Manhattan with the ridiculously high rents.
So for now I will have to go to big box retailers like Best Buy (until they start closing) or online to purchase electronic equipment, items, books and music. I still reminisce in the nostalgia of the old Park Row stores whenever I pass buy, but things will never be the same.