For the Record: Academy Records

By Pat Prince
ACADEMY RECORDS & CDS is in New York City. Photos courtesy Pat Prince
ACADEMY RECORDS & CDS is in New York City. Photos courtesy Pat Prince
Academy Records & CDs is a New York City institution. Owned by Joseph Ga Nun, the store has one of the finest secondhand collections of classical music you’ll find anywhere. But it’s the people who run the place who are the real treasures, as you’ll see in this interview.

What was your first job?

Joseph Ga Nun: Years before Academy Records & CDs was formed, it began as the Academy Book Store in 1977, founded by Alan Weiner. He gave me my first job in the bookstore working in the bag-check. My other duties would have included sweeping the floor and eventually I was allowed to stock records.

What is the history of your store?

JGN: Academy Records & CDs officially opened next door to Academy Bookstore on April 1, 1996. As the business was growing, and compact discs were becoming immensely popular, it became necessary to expand. Initially I became Alan’s partner in the record portion of the store. He was never very interested in the music portion of the business as a bookman. When he passed away, I bought out his shares of the record store and became a full owner. Now there are two additional locations, Mike Davis is my partner, who runs those two stores — namely, Academy Records and the Academy Record Annex in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In our other two locations we specialize more in rock, jazz, soul, etc., with the main focus on vinyl. The Brooklyn store also carries some CDs and DVD, and both stores carry a large selection of vinyl re-issues.

How has the neighborhood changed over the years?

JGN: In the late 1970s, the area that is currently being called “The Flatiron District” was mostly a manufacturing section of New York City. Then Reagan happened and destroyed that. Then it became a big area for photographers; then digital destroyed that. In the ’90s, the area was invaded by Wall Street types; now it almost impossible to get a decent lunch for under $10. I miss the days of the Cuban luncheonettes that used to litter this neighborhood and gave it so much character.

Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl sales?

JGN: What I have noticed is a lot of young people shopping the bins. That is very exciting to see! That doesn’t mean that sales are what they used to be.

What does your store offer that few, if any, others do?

JGN: We offer what is one of the largest selections of second-hand classical music in New York City, and we have a very high quality.

Who are some of the favorite customers you’ve had over the years?

JGN: One advantage of being in New York City is that we have so many great customers with really interesting diverse backgrounds and professions. It seems unfair to single anyone out. However, there was a most interesting person I never met who lived in Ohio where I went to buy a collection once. Two very charming ladies were handling the estate.

From talking to them I learned that this gentleman was a kleptomaniac who was thrown out of every store in town for stealing. He had to travel 50 to 250 miles out of town to go shopping. Even his closets were filled with stolen goods. As for the records, I wouldn’t say they were even worth stealing!

What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in the store?

JGN: Often times the rarest record is the one people don’t even know existed! For me it was very exciting to have a couple of rare Sviatoslav Richter at Carnegie Hall recitals that were only available in Japan. I’ve never seen them since.

What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?

JGN: We used to have a customer who hated advertising, and he would insist that our cashier would have to turn all of our bags inside-out (no matter how many people were on line behind him) so no one could see our logo on his shopping bag as he walked down the street! That really didn’t bother me, but the part that I couldn’t understand was that his politics were extremely conservative! … Anyway, I thought there were bigger issues to deal with than one small logo on a large shopping bag, but then my only real regret I ever had in business was that I didn’t get my logos printed on the inside of my bags, too! 

What advice would you have for people who want to own a record store?

JGN: Well the first thing is, it’s probably best if you love music and that you don’t have crappy taste! People with lousy taste shouldn’t be in the record business in the first place; we’ve already had too many of them running the industry into the ditch after all! But then I’ve known enough successful people in the record business who hate music!

So then I would suggest, don’t even think about it if you don’t like being around people, because in that case, it really wouldn’t make any sense making yourself more miserable than you all ready are.

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