Last week J&R Music World / Computer World closed its doors for good. Its owners promise to renovate and reopen. But I take that with a grain of salt, as I have seen too many business close for what they promise renovations and never reopen. In any event, even if J&R reopens down the road, it will be something different from what J&R was.
I have no inside knowledge of J&R. But as a customer for decades and a observer of that business, I think I can put together an outline of what happened. Unlike many closing these days, rising rents was not a major factor in that decision. J&R owned many of the stores that it occupied on Park Row.
To my mind, what killed J&R was not the perfect storm. Instead it was a constant barrage of storms that eventually forced the store to close
Certainly 9/11 was a traumatic event for J&R. But the closure and destruction of merchandise caused by that event was only part of the toll of that day. 9/11 removed a significant part of the office workers in J&R’s neighborhood, and most of that population has not yet been replaced. Lower foot traffic in a retail business that has only one location is a significant problem.
Over the past 15 years, J&R had to deal with the marginalization of physical music (CDs and LPs). When what was once the major part of your business becomes a niche market, you have a huge problem.
I can see parallels between the music business and the stamp business. New York City once had a thriving community of stamp dealers (with a major part of it located on Nassau Street in lower Manhattan) and major stamp departments in Macy’s and Gimbles. As the popularity of stamp collecting waned, stamp stores closed. Today, the stamp business is mainly online and mail order, with just a single store left in Manhattan. Of course, the same thing has happened with record stores over the past decade and a half.
The rise of online shopping also imperiled J&R. J&R did not ignore this and moved into the online space. But J&R online never had the presence of Amazon or NewEgg. J&R’s prices were usually not as good as those of the big competitors and if you lived in New York, you got charged tax, something which Amazon avoided until a few years ago, and which NewEgg still does not charge.
The power failure in lower Manhattan caused by Hurricane Sandy and which necessitated the closure of J&R during that time certainly had an effect on J&R. Unlike the closure caused by 9/11, when J&R was at the height of its success, the Hurricane Sandy closure can at a time when the business was dealing with a multitude of issues.
Finally, there has been a marked fall off in the computer business over the past 18 months caused, I believe, by Windows 8. J&R could not have been immune to that.
I’m sure that there were other factors in play which caused the closure of J&R. But to me, at least, these were some of the major factors which caused the end of this New York institution.