Taped to the dirty walls at The Thing record store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn are several signs with handwritten scrawls that warn of falling records. There’s the straightforward, penned-in-sharpie one that’s titled “Diggin for Dummies/Hipsters/Newbies/Tourists” (“Excessive weights on hollow crates are a safety hazard. They sway, tip, and fall.”). There’s the pleading one, also in sharpie, taped to a monstrous stack, crates encased in crates encased in crates so deep you could enclose a victim among them Cask of Amontillado-style: “Please don’t move these, you already had a chance at them but we need more space.” There’s the subtle one: little pieces of record shards scattered on the basement’s dirty concrete floor like so many sharp-edged leaves, their music forever sent to the Big Concert in the Sky by dummies/hipsters/newbies/tourists.
Organization tends to get kicked to the curb when your business model involves housing a million records (or so).
“People just make a mess, man,” Frank the Bank (a coworker said the nickname is because “he makes dollar bills,” as one is wont to do when all of their wares cost $2 even) tells me at the front desk while “Wake Me Up, Before You Go-Go” plays from the store’s speakers. “They don’t put the records back in the crates. We just want to keep it safe. Cause if you’re at the bottom of those stairs, and someone knocks that crap over…”
There’s no need to go on. Frank, a stout man with a Rolling Stones tongue tattoo peeking out on his neck from behind a mane of silvery-black hair, seems to shudder at the thought of being slammed by several thousand of the store’s records. Possibly because he has been.
The Thing opened 17 years ago. When its current owner bought it, it was a warehouse packed full of stuff, piled ceiling high, all the way to the door. It took them a year to be rid of it all, excavating sale by sale.
Once they’d cleaned it out, they filled it up again. Into the upstairs went shoes and camera parts and a minibike motorcycle and DVDs, CDs, cassette tapes, tchotchkes, Playboys. The basement got the records, crates upon crates, from estate sales and donations. They still get about three shipments in a week, because they sell fast at $2 a pop, or around $150 per crate, which hold 100 records. DJs dig through them to find samples. Hardcore collectors (obsessives, more likely), search for gems; Frank claims there are some $100 finds down there. Oh, and certain do-it-yourselfers buy crates of “junk” records for arts and crafts, to make coasters. Don’t ever say your cousin’s band’s time in the studio was good for nothin’.
In 2006 The New York Times reported the store had around 130,000 records, but today Frank and an associate say, yup, probably closer to a million. At least. Peruse the back room, where they’ve overflowed into stacks that reach toward the 10-foot-high ceiling, and the basement, filled with a warren of aisles between their labyrinthine shelves, and you’ll be tempted to believe them.
Good news, though, if there is a spill. You won’t have to worry about putting the unbroken ones back in order. There isn’t any.
And if you’re tempted to move the mess to get at something — please don’t. You already had a chance at them, and they need more space.