Richard Turk, co-owner of Colony Records, on the Brill Building music institution and hard times in the business
“The bottom line is that the Internet, increasing expenses, and decreasing sales have created a perfect storm," said Richard Turk, co-owner of Colony Records and Radio Center, in an interview. "We’ve outlasted a lot of megastores in the area, but economically it’s just no longer feasible.”
Turk added that the store, which has resided inside the landmark Brill Building on Broadway and 49th Street since 1970, will most likely shut its doors on Oct. 1.
Turk, who took over as co-owner in 1986, said Colony survived as long as it did in part because they focused on the “human element."
"We hired people well-versed in various types of music, who could really speak the language,” he said. “People come in here who don’t even speak English, but somehow we’re able to communicate on the wavelength of music.”
“On the Internet,” he said, referring to the shop’s website, “there’s no smell and no information beyond what we choose to tell you.”
On Thursday morning, the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York announced that Colony, the last independent music store in Times Square, will close next month. An employee of Academy Records leaked the news to JVNY founder Jeremiah Moss, triggering a flood of nostalgia for the shop’s vast collection of Broadway sheet music, out-of-print vinyl and glass vitrines stuffed with dusty pop ephemera.
According to Turk, the news broke slightly prematurely.
“I’ve been answering questions from every news outlet, radio station and newspaper in the city today,” Turk sighed over the phone, adding that he had The New York Times on the other line. “My staff didn’t even know.”
Colony Records was founded in 1948 by Harold “Nappy” Grossbart and Richard Turk’s father, Sidney. The shop’s location and late hours—it stayed open til 3 a.m. seven days a week for decades—made it a popular destination for musicians, theatergoers and celebrities throughout Times Square’s multiple incarnations. Repeat patrons included Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, and Michael Jackson, who in his later years took to scheduling after-hours appointments to drop by.
In his 40-plus years behind the counter, Turk said he’d encountered pretty much everyone he’d ever wanted to meet.
“I’ve met kings and queens and presidents and every rock star you could imagine,” he said.
He knew Jimi Hendrix before Hendrix made it big.
“Jimi’d be short on rent and say: ‘I’ll get you back Tuesday when I get paid for the gig.’”
One time, John Lennon stopped by to promote the single “Fame,” which he’d written with David Bowie. “He brought copies of the 45 and asked us to play it,” Turk said.
To the store’s potential detriment, Turk made sure his children never worked at Colony.
“I didn’t want them to become intoxicated by celebrities that came in,” he said. Plus, "they didn’t have the musical love in their blood like I did, or the patience to deal with retail.”
Turk said he has not decided whether the shop will relocate or become Internet-based. He foresees holding on to the brand, and exploring “creative options” like a book or a film about the store. A feature documentary chronicling Colony’s history and culture, Manhattan Lullaby, has been under way for several years, though production has stalled.
Of more pressing concern, Turk said, is where New Yorkers will go to talk about music, now that all the “characters stores” like Colony have gone extinct.
“Talking about music is what music’s all about,” he said. “And of all those old record shops, we were the last man standing."