The era of mega-music retail chains like Tower and Virgin is over, laid to rest by the digital revolution and the plummeting CD sales that followed. But across the Atlantic in London, Rough Trade apparently never caught wind of that narrative. The retailer, founded in 1976, expanded its operations with a 5,000-square-foot sister store in London’s East End in 2007. In November, Rough Trade will arrive on American shores with a 15,000-square-foot behemoth in Brooklyn. Running counter to trends among most independent retailers in the United States, sales at Rough Trade have been growing — up by 25% in first-quarter 2013, according to the company’s quarterly earnings report — with Rough Trade’s ambitions growing alongside them.
The retailer’s success lies in the perception among customers that the stores are a cultural destination, rather than just a place to buy music. Rough Trade has a rich history — the original store was a cradle for post-punk in the late ’70s and its sister label, Rough Trade Records, was home to the Smiths — and is known for frequent in-store performances by in-demand acts of the moment like HAIM and Local Natives.
“We don’t want simply to be a place of purchase, but a place of worship,” Rough Trade co-president Stephen Godfroy says. “We’ve used daring scale and creativity to redefine the expectation of what a store can be.”
The Brooklyn store will feature a built-in live music venue and bar that will operate nightly independent of the retail operation. It will also host a cafe and permanent kiosks where local vendors can sell non-music goods. If the store is successful, Godfroy says the company plans to open more like it both in the United Kingdom and around the world.