For some, an independent record store is just another business that comes and goes. But for others, it is a unique experience that encompasses everything eccentric and exciting about the music world. Needle Drop Records lives up to this expectation. It is a vibrant space filled with musical discovery, especially for vinyl enthusiasts, as they dig through records like they’re searching for buried treasure.
The rising come-back of vinyl has given many consumers the chance to visit larger commercial stores that not only sell records, but also offer a variety of trendy merchandise and products. Needle Drop Records, a small record store on Gregory Street, actively resists this commercialization by staying true to its mission of offering a more curated selection to its customers.
Russ Torregiano, the sole proprietor of Needle Drop Records, started his business in 2011. Before opening, Torregiano graduated from R.I.T. in 2010 and noticed a lack of underground record stores in the area. He had been to other cities where he discovered more punk-centric stores such as Generation Records in New York City and Double Decker Records in Allentown, PA that carried the mainstream releases, but also catered to more DIY hardcore punk and metal bands. Soon after, Torregiano signed a lease for the location he still occupies in the South Wedge, ripped down all the walls, and rebuilt it to what it looks like today.
“It was easier to open up a record store than it was to open a restaurant, which is actually what I went to school for,” Torregiano said. “It just happened. It was very natural and quick from concept to reality.”
When starting out, most business owners face a dilemma where they can't exactly appeal to their original vision for their business plan. Due to the vibrant punk scene in Rochester, Torregiano originally wanted to open more of a niche punk store similar to those that had originally influenced him. However, Torregiano realized that his customers’ interests regularly shifted from one thing to another, so he couldn’t run a business that solely specialized in one genre.
“I have to listen to my customers and if I don't, I don't really know what they want. So, I think a good business owner has open ears,” Torregiano said.
Even with the recent resurgence of vinyl, independent record stores are often seen as an endangered species, mainly due to big box stores and streaming services. However, some of the small businesses have managed to survive, but only the ones that are willing to change and adapt in an environment where streaming services are at the forefront of acquiring music. Despite these conveniences, Torregiano still sees his type of business as a more genuine way of consuming music.
“It's like a coffee shop without the coffee...You can come in and talk about records and I think that's what's lacking from online buying,”
“The biggest retailers [are] Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Walmart, and Target...You can buy records anywhere. But to have a real conversation, the store lens [is] a great venue...It's a great place for people to meet up and just talk and learn new things and meet new friends.”
Record Store Day has been credited for the recent international resurgence in the consumption of vinyl. Every year, Torregiano celebrates Record Store Day by booking live performances at his store. One year, he had the L.A. rock band Cherry Glazerr play in his store, featuring ex-member Sasami, who studied at the Eastman School of Music.
“That was probably the biggest, most random show that I ever had in the store. I think there was like a hundred people in the store. It was pretty crazy and it was packed,” Torregiano states,
“I’ve had a lot of music inside, outside on the sidewalk, and in the parking lot. I’ve had a lot of bands play here and it’s really cool.” Torregiano has even played in a couple of local bands himself, mostly playing bass. However, he tells us that finding time to play while running his business is difficult and it has been a few years since he actually played in a band.
“It's hard to find time for it, you know. I love doing it, but finding the time is tough. 99% of the time I'm here, but like any small business, that's just how it is.”
There’s no denying that the South Wedge has been sparking a renaissance for the past few years. The large assortment of small businesses and the tight-knit community make this neighborhood an ideal location for a niche record store. Torregiano loves the location he chose for his business, and expresses that “I think South Wedge is an odd space. I love it...I really love where I am. I've never wanted to move...The only time I have wanted to move is when I feel [like] I have a lack of space because it's a small store, but I think the South Wedge is really receptive.”
Torregiano’s sole local inspiration for his store, Analog Shock, used to be located in the South Wedge as well. “I always loved that store because you could go in there and find really obscure underground music that nobody was selling. My buddy Jay that used to work there would order very 'out there' records. Like, he introduced me to Unwound and screamo bands at the time. But, I specifically remember him handing me an Unwound record when it came out and he's said 'just buy this,'” Torregiano explains. “Those are the memories of record stores that I have from the early 2000s and late-1990s. You can see how influential somebody at a store could be, so I try to be a place that offers that.”
On Sunday, September 22, Torregiano will be hosting the South Wedge Record Fair alongside Mark Kaidy, owner of Hi-Fi Lounge, at the German House across the street from Needle Drop Records. There will be 40 tables filled with purchasable vinyl, CDs, DVDs, tapes, and much more. For “crazy collectors," there will be a $10 early-bird admission at 9:00 am. Free admission starts at 3:00 pm.
For more information on Torregiano’s business and the upcoming South Wedge Record Fair, you can visit Needle Drop Records webpage or call (585) 271-6785.