Lacquered wooden bins shine deep brown in the fluorescent light and a new sign hangs above what will soon be the counter of Needle to the Groove Records, but at the moment, the space is still a work in progress.
As owner Allen Johnson and manager Michael Boado explain, a bin still needs to be placed in the center of the room, shelves still need to be installed and the proposed listening station has yet to be set up, but those will certainly be there when the store officially opens its doors to the public on July 12.
Though the bins may still be waiting to welcome the stock of over 10,000 LPs that will start their collection, the hardwood floors and subtle earth tones that grace the walls suggest this will be more than just a space to store vinyl. As evident in this carefully designed space on Santa Clara Street between Ninth and Tenth streets in downtown San Jose, this shop will stand as a celebration of collection culture.
San Jose hasn’t had a record store downtown since the oft-overlooked Upstairs Records took up residence above Johnny V’s on Santa Clara Street more than a decade ago, only to disappear from that spot as quietly as it arrived. Needle to the Groove will finally fill that void, stocking their shelves with rock, jazz, R&B, Latin, reggae, punk, hip-hop, electronic and other music to appeal to both the dedicated digger and the novice vinyl buyer.
“Opening a shop for me is almost an excuse to continue to buy records,” admits Johnson, who’s been collecting and selling online for years.
Former longtime employees at Streetlight Records and collectors/DJs in their own right, Johnson and Boado are sensitive to how their shop will integrate into the South Bay vinyl ecosystem, which most prominently includes five shops of varying stock along a stretch that starts at Space Cat Records and Time Tunnel Toys on South Bascom Avenue and runs to On the Corner Records on East Campbell Avenue. Instead of the oft-heralded dollar bin, Needle to the Groove’s low price point will be $3 records, though their stock will also contain a well-curated, oft-refreshed selection of pricier vinyl aimed at collectors.
Johnson’s love for vinyl started as an aspiring hip-hop producer. “I would hit the record stores looking for dollar records that had a drum break or just a cool flute sound, and then I’d want to make a beat and be the cool dude that the rappers would want to work with,” he notes.
Boado is perhaps better known as DJ Basura, who helms the Blank Club’s weekly ’80s dance party Atomic. He attributes his love for records to the friends and family he’d accompany on mobile DJ gigs before he was even in high school.
Johnson name drops San Francisco shop Groove Merchant as an inspiration, yet his most apparent influence stems from the original Needle to the Groove, located in Fremont’s Niles district since 2006. He loved the character of the store and its walls lined with retro goods. Johnson says it reminded him of the shops he encountered in Chicago while in college, which made him first fall in love with wax.
When the possibility of opening a shop came about, Johnson knew he wanted to bring a similar vibe to San Jose. After consulting with owner Dan Bernal, the two finalized a deal to expand the Needle to the Groove name to San Jose.
“Dan’s a nice guy and he knows how to sell records,” Johnson says of the partnership. “Mike and I fit in with that. We want to help the people that walk through the door find cool records.”
The sheer size and physicality of vinyl records appears a stark contrast to our ability to carry vast musical libraries in our pockets. However, there’s an appeal to getting lost in a record store. Compared to, say, the iTunes store, where millions of songs are a mere search term away, record stores still lend themselves to hands-on discoveries.
The vinyl numbers also don’t lie: Nielsen SoundScan reported 2.9 million albums sold in 2013—a striking 33.5 percent increase over the previous year—and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said that in 2012, global vinyl sales topped $171 million.
Though the buying and selling process is nothing new to Johnson, the new storefront offers him a new outlook on the same process.
“I could go to a flea market, spend 100 bucks, and have 600 dollars’ worth of records,” he recalls of his earlier buying days. “There was a business model there, but at the same time, I’m just some street hustler, basically. I wanted something official. I want to be part of the community. I want people to feel like they can bring their records and sell them to an honest place who’s going to pay them fair.”
Needle to the Groove may now give Johnson the ability to possess a seemingly endless collection of vinyl—a dream for a man who says he’s “naturally excited about records”—but his new venture also allows for something much greater: the chance to turn his passion into his lifeblood and give back to the culture that first enveloped him as a youth.
Needle to the Groove
Opening July 12, 10am
410 E. Santa Clara St, San Jose