This is life: The Last Days for a Music Store Where Vinyl Has Respect

Picked up from Nedslist

February 27, 2011, 10:00 am


Joe Long has tried closing his legendary Brooklyn music shop, Birdel’s Records, before.Two years ago, Mr. Long posted a going-out-of-business sign in the windows of his Bedford-Stuyvesant storefront, which opened in 1944. With the decline of the music industry and of his profits, and the fact that no family member wanted to take over, he’d had enough. Mr. Long, now 73, began working at Birdel’s in 1957 and had owned the shop since the late 1960s. He was ready to retire, he said.

But to hear him tell it, the neighborhood wouldn’t let him.

“They said, ‘You’re an icon; you’re an institution in the community for all these years,’ ” Mr. Long recalled.

Though Mr. Long relented and took the signs down, little changed. So earlier this month he posted them in his windows again. And this time, he said, it’s for real: Birdel’s, the neighborhood staple that is among the last in a dying breed of New York City vinyl shops, and where a young Notorious B.I.G., the famed Brooklyn rapper, honed his chops listening to James Brown and Temptations records, will close on Friday, Mr. Long said.

“I hung on and hung on and hung on,” he said. “I can’t go on.”

Mr. Long’s immediate plans include traveling far from New York, where he has lived since 1954: first to North Carolina, where he will visit family, then perhaps to Aruba or Ghana.

One recent day, as calypso music blasted from an old television near the cash register, customers dug through Mr. Long’s specialties — gospel and oldies — as well as some contemporary CDs, and friends and family members helped pack up and sort through the estimated 100,000 45s and 10,000 LPs at Birdel’s, a dusty stockpile Mr. Long said he would part with for $25,000 to $30,000.

As is, of course.

Jeffrey Joe, 41, was rummaging through record-filled cardboard boxes that Mr. Long’s cousin had retrieved from the shop’s storage areas. A collector and D.J., Mr. Joe said he had heard of Birdel’s only two months ago, but had spent many hours since hunting through piles of Mr. Long’s 45s. He estimated that he had spent about $600 on 1,000 records.

Among his finds: Lee Dorsey singles, rare funk records from 1974, jazz 45s that have disappeared from the flea markets.

“This is one of the last places in New York with an original stockpile of records from the ’50s, from the ’60s, from the ’70s,” said Mr. Joe, who has been collecting records for more than 20 years. “The coolest thing is that a lot of it — I’d say 80 percent of it — is stuff I’d never heard of before.”

For others, it was an emotional farewell.

“I shudder to think of the day when he is no longer here and I can’t get words of wisdom,” said Edmon Braithwaite, 52, who began shopping at Birdel’s in the early 1980s and said Mr. Long had become a mentor through a local business association. “It’s a huge loss to the community.”

Despite Mr. Long’s professed commitment to close his shop, some Birdel’s stalwarts refuse to believe him.

“When I saw that sign, I said, ‘He ain’t going nowhere,’” said Bernice Layne, 60, who has been shopping at Birdel’s since 1963. “God has a way of working out miracles.”

Mr. Long, who was standing nearby, replied, “Yes he does, but he ain’t going to work one for me.”