Bob Plotnik (aka Bleecker Bob).
After a year of speculation and rumors, it’s official: Bleecker Bob’s, New York City’s most loved and hated record store, is closing. It will be replaced by a Froyo outlet in May 2013. Soon, instead of rare punk 45s, you’ll have your choice of “sprinkles with that?” or a shot of protein powder with your 32 ounce container of probiotic bacteria. It seems progress means a total loss of identity in the once mighty Manhattan.
This is from Bleecker Bob’s Facebook page:
looks like the new tenant has signed the lease. we’ve heard they want to be open by June 1. it will take probably around 2 months to get work permits for the massive remodeling job they’ll need to do so we’re figuring we should be open until May 2013!!
—-get ready for another chain of self serve yogurt/coffee/hot chocolate cafes NYC!!”
Bleecker Bob’s opened in 1968 as Village Oldies Records. In the mid-70s, as Bleecker Bob’s (named after its owner, ex-lawyer Bob Plotnik), it became a Mecca for people seeking the latest punk rock 45s and albums. Plotnik’s surly attitude, a borderline parody of the most tightly-wound rude New Yorker, added a certain manic energy that melded perfectly with the edgy music playing on the sound system. Imagine Johnny Rotten as a fat, pissed-off Jew and you might get a feel for Plotnik’s schtick. I could never tell if Bob was genuinely nuts or just playing nuts. He did usually follow his highly caffeinated rants with a sheepish smile. Whatever the case, his gruffness turned off a good portion of his customers. I knew plenty of people who refused to shop at his store, but I wouldn’t allow his vibes to keep me away from the thousands of records pouring in every month, most of which were D.I.Y singles from all over the planet. If dealing with Bob was part of the price of doing business with the guy, I didn’t mind. I wanted the vinyl!
When punk and disco hit the scene, people who had stopped buying records started again with real passion. I know I did. Bob’s shop was packed in the late ‘70s—lines snaking out the door and Bob barking at people to keep it moving. If you browsed too long without buying, you were out of there. It was Bob’s good fortune that Yelp didn’t exist at the time.
For a lot of musicians, Bob’s place was not only a place to buy records, it was a place to sell your own. At the height of the punk era, Bob was always interested in new stuff from new bands and would pay cash for a stack of D.I.Y. 45s. Between buying and selling, the store was a meeting place for rockers from all over the world. It wasn’t unusual to run into Stiv Bators, Joey Ramone or Billy Idol thumbing through the racks.
One day while visiting Bob’s, I found around 50 copies of my latest single sitting on the counter. These were records that I paid to have pressed with my own money. The distributor had just sold them to Bob for cash. I never got an accounting for that sale. The distributor pocketed the money for himself. If you think major labels are the ultimate rip-offs, you haven’t had the experience of working with indies. I later mentioned it to Bob and he laughed. “It happens all the time,” he said. I didn’t find it funny.
In recent years, due to health issues, Plotnik passed the day-to-day activities of running the store to his management team. The place somehow managed to survive without its resident bully or the help of a music movement like punk to fuel record sales.
In the annals of great record stores, Bleecker Bob’s will always stand tall. Ironically, at a time when vinyl sales are on the rise, one of the pioneers of the indie record scene is closing. Another casualty of escalating rent. Thanks to an unfriendly environment for independent business in New York City, we won’t have Bleecker Bob to kick us around anymore.
Hazel Sheffield and Emily Judem’s For The Records is a bittersweet tribute to Bleecker Bob’s record store and the man who nurtured it for over four decades.