Radio Free Brooklyn Partners with New Record Store

As more media consumption moves onto the Internet, one Internet radio station has decided to plant its feet in the physical world. Radio Free Brooklyn has partnered with Second Hand Records NYC to open a brick and mortar storefront in Bushwick.

The new storefront will combine a record store, a studio in the front window, and a community events space.

“What’s most exciting to me is having a space to physically build community in a neighbourhood,” said Tom Tenney, the station’s co-founder and program director.

Tenney, co-founder Rob Prichard, and record store owner Federico Rojas-Lavado all fondly recall a time when record stores were places for people to meet and talk about music, something they hope to recreate.

The question is whether stores can still sustain this role in the digital age. Statistics showed a resurgence in vinyl sales in the last three years. But that sales boom may be passing. Vinyl sales were down 20 per cent in the first half of 2016, according to the Record Industry Association of America’s statistics. Meanwhile, some vendors say that most vinyl sales these day are through online orders.

All three partners realize that the new venture is a risk, but Tenney said it is one they are willing to take.

“One thing that’s really important about a record store is that it allows for human interaction,” said Rojas-Lavado, who has lived in Bushwick for 15 years. Rojas-Lavado said his store will sell a range of genres and artists, but will focus on dance music.

“Every generation has a form of dance music,” he said, “You dance to it, we sell it.”

Radio Free Brooklyn has been streaming music and talk radio out of a basement studio since it launched in May 2015. Tenney and Prichard decided to take over the lease for the shop upstairs after the previous tenant moved out, and then partnered with Rojas-Lavado.

Photo Courtesy of Federico Rojas-Lavado

Photo Courtesy of Federico Rojas-Lavado

“Every step is a risk,” said Tenney, “You have to be willing to take those risks.”

They will have to make the new store and expanded radio station financially viable. Tenney explained that the radio station is not commercial. So far, it has run the proceeds from fundraising concerts and contributions from the producers of each show. With the new space, they hope to add revenue from events and grant funding for educational programs. Rojas-Lavado’s record store is a separate business.

Tom Noble, who owns a nearby record store and label called Superior Elevation, said selling records is a difficult business.

“Unless you’re really well know, you’re not going to sell a lot in store,” he said, “People don’t really buy records like they used to.” Noble said he sees less demand every year.

“There is no revival,” he said, “It just hasn’t died yet.”

However, Travis Klein, who owns another Brooklyn record shop called Human Head, said his three-year-old business has been growing. He said he’s seen a new wave of record stores in the last few years.

Klein, who helped to connect Rojas-Lavado with Radio Free Brooklyn, said he expects the new record store will grow over time.

Second Hand Records NYC opens October 8. The store will buy, sell, and trade new and used records, and will have an online store. The community space and studio will be developed in stages over the following months, as the station’s budget allows.