A Downtown superstore, J&R Music, shuts down for now

Passersby lingered outside J&R’s front door on Thursday, reading about its closing, reminiscing about its past and theorizing about its future. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED APRIL 11 2014  |  It was the end of an era — and yet another sign of the music industry’s great technological shift — as J&R Music and Computer World shut its doors on Thursday, after 43 years in business.

The neighborhood megastore — which had grown to fill a five­-story building on Park Row after opening as a basement record shop in 1971 — was a true Downtown institution that once led the way in sales of music, movies and electronics equipment, but struggled to adapt to the growth of Internet content sharing and sales.

“This sucks…it’s just so sad that it’s closing,” a 62­-year-­old Brooklynite who identified himself only as Justice said standing outside the shuttered building on Thursday. A freewheeling DJ back in ‘70s and ‘80s, he explained that he and so many others had relied on J&R for the best records and turntables, as well as an atmosphere that was key in cultivating New York’s wide array of music scenes.

“This place allowed DJs to do what they did, and everybody back in the day knew that Park Row was the spot to be at for people who were really into the music,” said Justice, adding that he first came to the store in 1972 while he was a student at John Jay College.

That kind of engagement with musicians and fans alike was what helped J&R grow into an iconic store that would later go on — and become one of the last of its kind — to sell DVDs, camera and computer equipment and other products in a brick-­and-­mortar setting, rather than just online.

But it’s that same old­ school vibe that has now forced the store’s owners, Joe and Rachelle Friedman, to plan a “reimagination and redevelopment” of the five-­story space in order to keep it relevant, and profitable, in culturally shifting times.

“A lot has changed in these 43 years, including not only the way we listen to music and the technology products we sell, but the way people shop and socialize,” the Friedmans said in a public statement released on Thursday. “As part of these evolutions, we too have to continue to adapt to the technology, retailing and real estate trends and reinvent ourselves as we continue to look ahead.”

The owners said they’re going to be redeveloping the location into an “unpecedented retailing concept and social mecca,” but have been tight-lipped about the details, stating only that they hope to reopen a new business there in 2015, and that they’ll be sharing more about the changes in coming months.

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A rendering of the possible “reimagination and redevelopment” of the Park Row building, released with the statement by J&R’s owners.

No official renovation plans have yet been filed for the Park Row building, which covers the block between Ann and Beekman Sts., according to city records. However, the Daily News reported on Wednesday that the Friedmans are already planning to find retail partners to redevelop the site.

Meanwhile, many would-­be customers, locals and Financial District workers — as well as more nostalgic New Yorkers like Justice — crowded outside the covered­-up J&R doors April 10, lingering while reading the Friedmans’ statement, which was posted on the windows.

“I’m not too surprised by it,” said Josif Fatkhivey, who works in the area and had bought camera lenses and other equipment at the store. “It makes sense that they couldn’t keep a retail space going, since everyone’s buying online…although I did like being able to actually come into the store and try something out before buying it.”

And a number of passersby muttered about the possibility — surely feared by some Downtown — that the Park Row building, in such a prime location, would be sold and put some other use…maybe for luxury condos?

A spokesperson for the Friedmans didn’t address the possibility of a sale to a residential developer when this newspaper asked about it on Thursday, saying only that the “reimagining” of the space is an ongoing process.

Whatever the future might hold, Justice remained sobered by the realization that the good old days were long gone.

“The thing is this,” he said. “Anybody over the age of 45 knows that you didn’t just come to the record store to buy something from one artist. You came to learn about everything, and J&R was where that was happening. Man, I remember learning about [jazz pianist] Chick Corea for the first time, way back then, just because I saw something about him on the back of a Herbie Hancock record.

“Now, kids don’t learn about any of those classic bands because they’re just worried about looking up what’s popular online and getting one song, or one band,” he said, wistfully, looking up at the building. “It’s just sad.”

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