Any company that gets to celebrate its fortieth year in business has much to be proud of; lasting that long in the most competitive city on Earth is really saying something. J&R Music and Computer World, a true veteran of the Financial District, reached that milestone a few months ago, and stands as that rare animal: a big “name” retailer that’s not a faceless corporate monolith. From its humble beginnings as a little record and tape store, to the “world” it is today, J&R flips the script on the current model. Instead of resigning themselves to finding unique items on the internet, consumers in the Wall Street area can actually go into the store, confident that what they’re seeking is there waiting for them. In fact, residents of Lower Manhattan who balk at traveling up or across town to find a cool record shop or place to grab some computer equipment may not even be aware of the gem that sits right in their midst. J&R music has weathered all manner of adversity to remain a major vendor of music, movies and just about any accessory or gadget you might need.
Hit especially hard by 9/11, J&R was lucky (or savvy) enough to have struck deals with the likes of Amazon and established an early internet presence which has helped carry them through the roughest patches. And while the massive physicality of the store itself might seem comparable to the other Manhattan electronic stores like the defunct Wiz and Tower Records, J&R music is really a mom-and-pop shop that grew, and stuck, a real American success story founded unassumingly in 1971 by a husband and wife team just in from Israel. As brick-and-mortar record shops and electronics stores have gone the way of the dodo, J&R has held its ground, and its grit has been rewarded by New Yorkers who still relish taking their sweet time meandering through a building and holding albums and stereos and cameras in their hands before they decide whether to buy them or not.
Another facet of J&R that’s so refreshing and vital that it’s almost quaint is its series of live music events. Artists as celebrated and diverse as Beyonce’ The Smithereens, Earth, Wind & Fire, Suzanne Vega and Chuck D have performed at the store as part of their annual late-summer MusicFest as well as other events. With the demise of the Virgin Megastores a few years back, the idea of live music in a retail setting is a dying tradition, but J&R seems determined to preserve it.
And in an age when Domino’s Pizza and Burger King are offering supposedly “artisanal” food items, Target and Wal-Mart double as supermarkets, and families get as cozy for lunch at Bed Bath and Beyond and IKEA as they do at Chuck E. Cheese’s, the natural next step has been taken: “The J&R Music Café.” Yes, you can now make it a day at J&R, with the recent introduction of a harmlessly-glorified snack bar (followed by the addition of kitchenware to the store’s inventory). You won’t get a Zagat-worthy meal, but you’re likely to cross paths with more celebrities than even the Stage Deli can boast—J&R’s reputation in the biz attracts the business of countless entertainers and industry professionals, all seeking the same service and selection you are.
J&R Music and Computer World is really more than a store at this point; it stands proudly as a New York City institution, a stalwart Lower Manhattan business that has endured more than its share of obstacles. The Financial District owes part of its very identity to the massive space on Park Row, and the citizens who live and work in the neighborhood should be thankful that J&R is still alive and well.