Saving the Old School Sound: NJ Record Stores Are Preserving Musical Relics

New Jersey has a remarkable number of independent and idiosyncratic vinyl record stores throughout the state. There should be a tour of all of its vinyl record stores because they get right to the heart of our state’s charms, history, distinctive attitude and variety. Shops range from hip little boutiques that feel like they’re on someone’s mind, to spacious, high-end record havens. One thing they all share is owners who are passionate about music on vinyl.

Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Yes, vinyl is back and better than ever. Vinyl sales continued to rise, increasing 29.2% to $619.6 million in 2020 from $479.5 million in 2019. Rising vinyl sales offset the continued decline in sales CDs, and artists are now recording on vinyl. (Country singer Kacey Musgraves is hot in the vinyl space.)

Stepping into New Jersey record stores is like stepping into history. Among the pleasures of vinyl records, their pleasant and reassuring format; the artwork on the cover that gives you an idea of ​​what to expect inside, and – they have liner notes you can read. Then there is the ceremonial and tactile aspect of playing the disc. You don’t just set it up. You gently remove the record from its paper sleeve, carefully place it on the turntable, and touch the stylus (needle) even more carefully to the album. Since you’ve earned it, you can sit back, listen to the album and let it overwhelm you. No skipping, sampling, no distractions: you become one with the music.

There is also the issue of sound quality. Vinyl (analog) sound is considered “warmer” by some, and the analog fade out is kinder to the psyche than the abrupt end of the CD. I remember reading in the NY Times that Dusty Springfield sang “The gaze of love” on theCasino Royale” album was considered the pinnacle of analog listening pleasure. Darren Revilla of Revilla Grooves and Gear in Milltown supported me on this.

Here is a sampling of some of the independent record stores in our state.

Elmwood Park Musical Connection. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Music Connection to Elmwood Park is on a quiet street off River Road. Once you enter you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume: a large room with shelves and racks of records, a smaller CD section and a few assorted cassettes and DVDs and 45s. You could easily spend half a day there.

Address: 12 Summit Ave., Elmwood Park, NJ 07407

Music Merchants in Westwood. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

music merchants in Westwood is lighter and brighter with an extensive collection. Owner John Schlapak founded the store in 1979. With his distinctive and pungent take on things, he could be mistaken for a particularly sassy resident of Middle-earth. Besides all the goodies in his store, he’s fun to talk to.

Address: 157 Westwood Ave, Westwood, NJ 07675

Revilla Grooves and Gear in Milltown. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Revilla grooves and gear in Milltown has a chill, Jedi vibe that appeals to true sound geeks. The displays are well organized and you can listen to music on headphones at three listening stations with state-of-the-art equipment in front of the store. If you walk through the bead curtain in the back, you’ll find a cozy room with a sofa where you can test out the top-notch sound systems that Revilla has on display in the next room. Owner Darren worked at the legendary Princeton Record Exchange before opening his place. Whether you are a true believer or a neophyte, Revilla is worth a look.

Address: 126 North Main St., Milltown, NJ 08850

Scotti Record Store in Summit. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Gary Scotti from Scotti Record Store in Summit knows its business. Scotti’s, founded in 1956 by his father, is a bright and welcoming 2,000 square foot store that sells vinyl, CDs, cassettes (they’re making a comeback), t-shirts, mugs and stereo equipment . Everything is neatly categorized: rock, hip-hop, jazz, classical music and movie soundtracks. What is Gary listening to? A mix of classic rock and new artists, like Jason Isbell and the Black Pumas. He also does a big business in Christmas records. Like most record dealers, he buys used vinyl, and he explained the concept of matrix numbers – the alphanumeric code stamped into the end-of-record groove area at the end of a record. It can tell a reseller whether a record is an original pressing or a reissue, which affects its value.

Address: 351 Springfield Ave, Summit, NJ 07901

In Station 1, a recording of the 1977 film “Eraserhead” can be found, which is packed with a haunting soundtrack. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Station 1 Books Vinyl and Vintage Shop is a beautiful store inside the old Pompton Lakes train station. Owner Daniel Salsberg was an online bookseller when he bought the place four years ago. Now records, mostly vinyl, account for 85% of sales. Music director Joe Smith said the biggest vinyl sales were of classic rock, punk or metal and jazz of the Miles Davis, John Coltrane variety. I asked him what the most valuable vinyl records were: 13th Floor Elevators (one of the first psychedelic rock bands of the 60s) and the early Zombies. Station 1 also sells turntables, DVDs, VHS, and an intriguing assortment of books you won’t find at Barnes & Noble.

Address: 1 Station Plaza, Pompton Lakes, NJ 07442

New Brunswick Spina Records. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

Rutgers alumnus Andrew Spina opened the SPina Records in 2014 to a cozy store in the basement, then moved to 118 Easton Ave. in 2017. A record collector since childhood, he saw the growing interest in vinyl and got on board. The Hub City, with its bustling music scene, is home to several influential bands, like Screaming Females (he went to school with singer Marissa Paternoster) and Cook Thugless. A former musician himself, Andrew has bridged the gap between record lovers and coffee and has a partnership with Hidden Grounds Coffee. The Espresso Bar, at 4C Easton Ave., is minutes from Spina’s and offers hundreds of its hand-picked vinyl records to browse while you sip.

Address: 118 Easton Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901

Jack’s Music Store at the Red Bank. Photo courtesy of Jack’s Music Shoppe

From the street, Jack’s Music Store at Red Bank looks like a beautiful Parisian bookstore, circa 1920. Inside, it’s just as beautiful: a spacious 6,000 square feet filled with the best vinyl (and CDs and cassettes) in all genres. They are smart musicians (manager Tim Cronin was a sound man for bands). Its choice is vast, nicely arranged and well organized. And there are musical instruments to sample and buy in a room on the first floor.

Address: 30 Broad Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701

The record collector in Bordentown. Photo courtesy of The Record Collector

The record collector in idyllic Bordentown was Voted the “No. 1 Favorite Independent Record Store in the Tri-State Area” by Details Magazine. It’s a beautiful store in the heart of town. Like all the best stores, it has a huge selection of new music , used, rare and collectibles in all formats, and management has been doing so for over 40 years. At last count, the store held over a million vinyl records, 45s and CDs. And, like most stores, they also buy and trade almost anything that runs on a turntable or CD player.

Address: 358 Farnsworth Ave, Bordentown, NJ 08505

Country music at Cliffside Park. Photo by Manuel Igrejas

While researching this story, I came across Country Music at Cliffside Park, and I just had to check them out. It opened in 1934 as Taliaferro Radio and Electric and sold radios, record players and records. His daughter Joan started working there when she was 10 years old and eventually took over the business. It was renamed Music Country in the 1980s. Joan runs Music Country with her husband, Jim Demarest, a musician who once played for Sammy Davis Jr. It’s a small space tucked away in a busy block, and when I walked in , Jim played on a guitar. Although cramped, Music Country is well organized and full of musical treasures. The walls are lined with classic album covers such as those by Keely Smith, Bobby Darin and Sinatra which make the place a veritable museum of music history. Jim was a knowledgeable and charming guide.

Address: 728 Anderson Ave, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010

No “Visiting New Jersey’s Iconic Record Shop » (let’s make it a thing) would be complete without a visit to these enduring pioneers of the recording industry. But you don’t have to register for the whole tour. You can hop in your car and just a few miles from where you live in New Jersey, vinyl magic awaits.

Manuel Igrejas has worked in theater as a playwright and publicist on Broadway and elsewhere. He was a publicist for Blue Man Group for 15 years, and his other clients included Richard Foreman, John Leguizamo, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, STREB, Julie Harris and Peak Performances.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.

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