Kiam Records Shop Opens in Nyack, Helps Revive Local Music Community
A new Rockland County record store helps jumpstart the Valley’s vinyl craze
Photographs by Ken Gabrielsen
Inside the Kiam Records Shop on Nyack’s boutique- and restaurant-lined Main Street, music aficionados rifle through wooden bins filled with a motley mix of retro albums: Dolly Parton’s Heartbreaker, Serge Gainsbourg’s Du Jazz Dans le Ravin, and INXS’s Listen Like Thieves. The airy space, also strewn with jewelry, vintage clothing, and books, like Yoko Ono’s classic Grapefruit, made its debut just in time for the maddening holiday shopping season. Yet Jennifer O’Connor, the singer-songwriter who opened the store with her wife, fellow musician Amy Bezunartea, says the locals — blues lovers, metal heads, and hip-hop fans alike — remain drawn to the collection.
O’Connor, a longtime resident of New York City, was leading a cramped Brooklyn life when she and Bezunartea decided to seek out the peace of Rockland County instead. “Being involved in music, we couldn’t leave New York entirely, but I remembered Nyack from when I once performed there and thought it might be a fit,” O’Connor recalls. It was, not only for the couple’s roomier Victorian duplex, but for the record shop O’Connor had been contemplating opening ever since working at one in college. After the demise of so many stores, O’Connor was skeptical of such a risky pursuit, but she noticed a number of indie shops making a triumphant comeback and “everything just culminated at the right time,” she says. “Ordering music online is convenient, but it’s isolating. People want to actually look at records and meet others to talk about music.”
The resurgence of vinyl records has spread across the country, without a doubt. According to Nielsen SoundScan, 9.2 million vinyl records were sold in 2014, a 52 percent increase from 2013. These are now the highest numbers recorded for vinyl sales since SoundScan began tracking them in 1991, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, according to Time magazine, vinyl only accounted for 6 percent of all 2014 album sales.
But that hasn’t stopped Kiam Records Shop and other Hudson Valley vinyl vendors from resuscitating the lost art. Last year, Sound Shack, situated just a stone’s throw from The Towne Crier Café, arrived in Beacon courtesy of Sandy Rokoff and Phil Tarant, a retired accountant with an avid love for music and record collecting. Here, Tarant’s knowledge and passion are accompanied by a cranking turntable and varied selections from artists spanning My Chemical Romance and Bill Haley & His Comets.
For O’Connor, whose own songs have appeared on both an Apple commercial and Orange is the New Black, her shop is an extension of Kiam Records, the small label she’s run for more than a decade, highlighting such soulful artists as Tim Foljahn and The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries.
Growing up in Connecticut and Florida, O’Connor says her affinity for music was cemented early on. After school, she constantly listened to records; Top 40 was another obsession. “I kept a notebook of all my favorite songs and would go buy the 45s with my allowance. I listened to Casey Kasem and Rick Dees’ countdowns religiously,” she remembers.
Although the Kiam Record Shop’s stash isn’t huge — O’Connor doesn’t want it to be overwhelming or cluttered for patrons — it’s vast. The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and the Notorious B.I.G. share the spotlight here, as do Elliott Smith, Kendrick Lamar, and Sleater-Kinney. But, she points out, “I think Michael Jackson’s Thriller sells every day.”