Published: December 28, 2006

Buying Classical CDs in a Post-Tower-Records World


When it’s time to recommend noteworthy recordings of the year, I prefer to focus on new releases, not reissues. Still, some of the recordings I was most excited by in 2006 were boxed-set releases of historic items. Before getting to that, though, an obvious question comes up.

Where are classical music lovers in New York supposed to purchase all the recordings recommended by New York Times critics now that Tower Records is going out of business? The store near Lincoln Center shut it doors for good last week, which was, in a way, a relief: it was too depressing to see those decimated bins and empty shelves that once offered the closest thing there was to a comprehensive selection.

There are alternatives, though, and some of them may expand their offerings in light of Tower’s demise.

I recently returned to the classical music section at J&R Music World on Park Row in Lower Manhattan, a block south of City Hall. It does not have the extensive holdings that the Tower near Lincoln Center boasted. Still, the offerings were sizeable and smartly chosen. The guiding spirit there is Jeff Tarlo, an endearingly disheveled New York character and a salesman whom many classical buffs depend on for trustworthy tips.

The record department at Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center has seen an uptick in business since the dismantling of the Tower across the street. You’d think it would be an opportune time for the store to expand its classical music offerings. Alas, limited shelf space is a problem. Drop by, and you will find enticing items, though not necessarily what you came in looking for.

Many classical music buyers in New York swear by Academy Records at 12 West 18th Street, near Fifth Avenue, which specializes in used recordings on CD and vinyl. You can certainly find some exciting items, often at good prices, and informed staffers to help you.

But as I said in an earlier eulogy to the Tower near Lincoln Center, many buyers, willingly or not, are going to turn to online options. The site of choice for many collectors is, which prides itself on being devoted only to classical music. The site has hot picks each week and easy-to-navigate listings. E-mail inquiries are answered expediently, and the prices are sometimes the best online.

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