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Four Corners: Vinyl on Long Island
Karl Groeger Jr. sits in Looney Tunes’ cozy office in West Babylon, the walls covered in newspaper clips, signed guitars and vinyl records, and stares at his Apple computer, the mouse hovering over his music library on iTunes. Groeger, 43, co-owner of the record store and president of Looney Tunes’ Brookvale Records, has been firmly implanted in the record-selling business since he was 6 years old. He knows nothing else. But his digital library (less than 200 tracks) is rather bare. “I just don’t like the sound,” he says. Vinyl, Groeger insists, is the only true way to experience music as an art form. Despite the record store’s success, Groeger felt like Looney Tunes had more to offer to vinyl lovers. So three years ago, he established the label and made deals with some of the biggest names in the business, such as Warner Bros., Universal and Sony Music. Brookvale (which takes its name from the street Looney Tunes is located) has worked with about 50 bands since that time and produced 15 vinyl records with three scheduled for release in the near future, including one from Long Island’s own Taking Back Sunday. “When you experience music on vinyl you physically hold the piece in your hand,” Groeger says. “You’re touching something, you can’t touch a download.”
THE STORE OWNER
Joe Ostermeier is talking about his enormous collection of records (around 15,000) when a customer entering Infinity Records in Massapequa Park with a big grin embraces him. “Yeah, we kiss customers,” he says with a smile. Infinity has a strong customer base, and many of those diehard vinyl fans are in the store, fingering through the collection of hundreds of used and new records—some that sell for only a quarter. Dozens of new records line the walls of the shop, shelves are filled to the brim and vinyl albums packed tightly in boxes stretch all the way to the store’s rear. Ostermeier went into the business because he “knew how to build a better record store than what existed on Long Island,” he says. And even though the music industry has seen a drastic shift from vinyl to digital music over the years, Ostermeier, who has degrees in accounting and business, is not surprised that Infinity has weathered the storm. For Ostermeier, the business is not about the money. “I wanted to open up a store that was collector-oriented to people who actually knew music and love music.” Judging from his clientele, he’s succeeded.
It’s easy to understand why 43-year-old John Everette, a DJ and emcee, who goes by the moniker Oxygen, is infatuated with vinyl. Oxygen’s childhood home was a vinyl playground—his mother collecting gospel LPs and his sisters jamming to funk and Motown. Oxygen’s sister bought him his first records from Paradise Records and he’s “been hooked every since,” he says. His interest in vinyl evolved in the mid-80s, influenced by friends and DJs in his neighborhood. Vinyl has also played a large role in Oxygen’s career. As a DJ and emcee, he opened for the rap group Public Enemy in Germany for their 25th anniversary tour in 2010, and he will be performing in Holland and the U.K. this month. The DJ’s love for vinyl is also radiated through his own music. “I’m a vinyl addict,” Oxygen raps in a music video. “Started off at a 11 with this habit, never needed toys because wax was all that mattered.”
Nicholas Smith saunters into Infinity Records in Massapequa Park on a Friday morning, escaping the chilly breeze outside with the help of a steaming coffee he just purchased from a nearby coffee shop. Smith is very familiar with the area, especially Infinity, which is practically a second home. Smith, a 47-year-old accountant who grew up in East Williston, has been collecting vinyl records for 35 years and has owned up to 5,000 of the black beauties. The most he’s ever had in his collection at one time is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000. “Space is always an issue,” he admits. “You collect them and a lot of times certain things come to signify certain times in your life,” he says, as music bounces off the walls and shoppers inspect Infinity’s vast inventory. Smith describes the sound of a vinyl record as “a little bit warmer, a little bit smoother,” than a CD or digital download, which is “a little bit harsh” to his ears. He doesn’t think he’ll ever stop collecting. “You’re always bumping into new stuff,” Smith says.