Rough Trade, the iconic London music retailer that spawned Rough Trade Records and served as a cradle for post-punk music in the late 1970s, will open its first flagship store in the U.S. in New York on Monday, November 25.
The store, a 15,000 square foot repurposed film prop warehouse in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, represents a major gamble on the American music market by the retailer, which in recent years has enjoyed a sales boom in the U.K. despite harsh industry realities in that country and around the world. In April, the British trade magazine Music Week named Rough Trade “Retail Brand of the Year.”
“New York and London are similar in many ways — they’re kaleidoscopic celebrations of global differences and similarities,” Rough Trade co-president Stephen Godfroy tells Billboard of expanding across the Atlantic. “They enjoy an open-mindedness, a deep respect for the past, a voracious appetite for the future, which all combines to produce a climate that suits our individual approach to music retail.”
The Williamsburg store was originally announced in April of 2012, with plans to open its doors at an unspecified date later that year. But what Godfroy describes as “numerous obstacles in the construction planning and building process” left those plans in limbo until now.
Rough Trade N.Y.C. will sell all new music — no used — in multiple formats in addition to serving as a “healthy-sized place to hang out” for music lovers. A portion of the space has been sectioned off as a performance venue for free in-stores as well as after-hours ticketed concerts booked by The Bowery Presents.
The store will join other live music venues in perpetually developing North Williamsburg, including Bowery’s Brooklyn Bowl, Output and the Williamsburg Waterfront and Williamsburg Park.
“The emphasis will be on music the art, not the commodity,” says Godfroy. “In that respect, it will be true to our London stores, places where music and culture lovers of all ages and taste congregate and celebrate what it means to be independent.”
Physical music retailers in the U.S. have endured a bitter decline in sales as consumers have shifted to digital consumption methods. In the past five years, sales at independent music retailers have fallen 36.1%, according to Nielsen SoundScan, while chain stores and mass merchant retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy saw even bigger dips of 71.6% and 51.7% over the same period, respectively. In New York just this year, independent retailers Bleecker Bob’s and Sound Fix records closed their doors due to intractable profit margins.
There are signs that physical formats aren’t dead yet, however. Vinyl sales are so far up a whopping 31.9% just this year, according to SoundScan, continuing a hockey-stick growth phase for the format that dates back to the first Record Store Day in 2008.
In London, Rough Trade Retail Group, which operates independently from Rough Trade Records, has two stores, Rough Trade West and Rough Trade East. The latter, opened in 2007, is the larger of the two, but at 5,000 square feet is only one third the size of the New York store.
“This city demands something truly special, and hopefully that’s what we can achieve in collaboration with the people that visit and go on to define the space over the months and years to come,” says Godfroy. “[The store is] a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the joy and inspiration NYC has given us with its music and culture.”