Rockit Scientist Records occupies a small slice of St. Mark's Place between Second and Third Avenues. On one side of it is an upscale burger restaurant. On the other side is a convenience store of a type familiar on that block, with sunglasses, t-shirts and smoking paraphernalia laid out like produce between the front door and the sidewalk. As with many buildings on the block, there is a second-floor business upstairs, a tattoo and piercing parlor.
The inside of the store is narrow but deep, with CDs lining the walls and vinyl albums stacked closer to the floor. On a recent afternoon lesser-known Donovan songs were playing while the owner, a big man with long hair and glasses, was talking with the customers from behind the counter. He listened to a dark-haired young man with a backpack talk about a record store in Kent, Ohio. At another point he complained to a middle-aged customer about the poisonous state of American politics over the last few decades.
Later, when I was talking to him about how a lot of small East Village record stores have closed in recent years, along with bigger retailers like Tower and Virgin, he put forward a theory about different kinds of music listeners. Top 40 consumers, he suggested, were more easily satisfied with downloading music. His customers, on the other hand, had the mentality of collectors. "The kind of people looking for the 13th Floor Elevators or the Stooges are more passionate," he said. "They want the actual CD."
When I asked if he thought people valued the physical act of going to a record store, he shrugged. "It's like a bar," he said. "People come in to hang out and talk."