Iconic British record store Rough Trade’s first foray across the sea, into a sprawling warehouse space on North 9th and Wythe, is three days from its opening, and resembles a sort of digitally-savvy industrial amusement park much more than it does a retail record shop.
This gargantuan, but still independent, record store plopping itself in a former HBO props warehouse in the trendiest part of Williamsburg sounds like a punchline of an elaborate joke, but Rough Trade co-owner Stephen Godfroy hopes to attract “culture lovers of all ages and tastes,” rather than an army of hipsters.
“This isn’t a hobby shop for nerds,” he told Bedford and Bowery. “It’s a far more inclusive experience. We are never too cool for school. We want to break down barriers, not put people or their taste in music in boxes.”
The former props warehouse has a 10,000 square-foot lower level, with 5,000 square feet of mezzanine above, surrounded by a metal railing. The design of the main floor makes use of a series of enormous shipping containers, which are in “their natural habitat” inside a warehouse, according to Godfroy.
“They came in on the back of a lorry, which was very exciting,” he said. “I took a video.”
Six album-cover murals hang outside the storefront, and others will be painted on the brick walls inside, including one of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat.
“We have no price messaging on the walls, and no promotions, because we see music as an art form, not a commodity,” said Godfroy. (This also means that nothing will ever be on sale.)
The catwalk mezzanine section of the space holds an array of weird add-ons and goodies around each corner, including The Room, an space in the front-and-center of the mezzanine that will feature an art installation meant to bring an “experience” to the release of an album. The first resident of the space will be Childish Gambino, whose new album because the internet drops on December 10th (he’ll perform at Rough Trade on December 8th). The exhibit, by artist Brian Roettinger, opens the same day as Rough Trade NYC, and features a recreation of Donald Glover’s bedroom, complete with a psychedelic rainbow light design on the walls and a glitchy, digitalized portrait of Glover.
The catwalk also includes a display of books and magazines and a booth devoted to The Guardian, where users can explore infographics and digital news comparing music tastes and trends in London versus New York, in an attempt to cultivate a “transatlantic dynamic.”
Main Drag Music, Rough Trade’s neighbor down the block on Wythe Ave, will peddle mini synths and other equipment in a small section of the warehouse’s main floor. A café cube of blond wood will be catered by Five Leaves. All this, combined, is at least mildly overwhelming.
“It’s an experiment, and we’ll never totally be finished with it,” said Godfroy of the varied concepts he meshed together in creating the space. “To some extent, the store will take on the personalities and tastes of the people who engage most with us. We hope to become more homey, not in a let’s-gather-around-the-fireplace kind of way, just in a genuine, no-pretense kind of way.”
Rough Trade East in London has a reputation for occasionally selling the LPs of unsigned artists, and Rough Trade NYC will continue this tradition, according to Godfroy, who hopes that local bands around Brooklyn and Manhattan will offer their music to Rough Trade.
“It will still be like what happened in the ’70s, like with The Specials,” he said. “The best way to do it is just to bring your record and approach the desk. If we like your music, we’ll sell it.”
Despite the distracting amount of add-ons, Rough Trade NYC’s main attraction is undoubtedly its music venue, which has a capacity of 250, and will feature an almost daily line-up of live shows. Smaller in-store events are to be programmed by Rough Trade itself, and will include non-concert events from author readings to build-your-own synth workshops. Larger events, including the much-anticipated kickoff concert by Television this Friday, will be curated by The Bowery Presents.
A store the size and scope of Rough Trade NYC might seem like a Dunkin’ Donuts-level corporate invasion of the neighborhood, but Godfroy said he has felt welcomed by the Williamsburg community so far, and had an especially positive experience while appealing for a full bar in the event space with Community Board 1, who have been known to reject a liquor license here and there.
“We want to be a hub for the community,” said Godfroy, “and we hope that people in the community who are pensive about how well we’ll fit in, because of all the unavoidable hype, will get to know us on a personal level. We are very respectful of anything local or independent.”
Rough Trade NYC will be open for business at 9 a.m. on Monday, and synth-pop siren Sky Ferreira kicks off their program of in-house shows with a live concert that evening.