Last Friday, May 1st, was the 29th anniversary of the modest beginning of Downtown Music Gallery. We opened our doors on May 1st of 1991! Our first store was at 211 East 5th St., around the corner from Cooper Union. Our rent was cheap ($750) and the store was not very big (750 sq ft). There were two owners, David Yamner & Steve Popkin, and I worked for them 6 days a week. Their plan was to sell Used CD’s and vinyl while I promoted Downtown/Progressive/Avant Jazz, what I dug the most. There were allegedly some 100 record stores in NYC at that point, each with its own specialty. We were there for 12 years until 2003, and started having weekly free concerts, an idea that started when I worked previously at Lunch For Yor Ears with Manny Maris. Here is a short list of who played at our original location: Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill, Derek Bailey (released on DVD), Peter Kowald, Joelle Leandre, John Zorn, Thomas Chapin, Bob Musso, John Richie (all from Machine Gun), Rod Poole, Ivo Perelman, Marc Ribot, Eugene Chadbourne, Haino Keji & Loren Mazzacane and so many more! I became the owner in 1997, after paying Mr. Yamner $140 a week for several years. Around the time I became the owner, myself & Emperor Mike started the DMG newsletter, 1st monthly, than biweekly and then weekly. It was print only at the beginning but since taking on the mail-order for the Tzadik label, we started an e-mail mailing list and sent out the newsletter weekly to 100 folks at the start. We now have more than 6,000 friends/customers on our weekly newsletter list! My old boss, Manny, reappeared after many years so I hired him to work 1 day a week, eventually working more and becoming my partner after a while. We had started our own website and Manny helped to create our on-line database which now lists over 100,000 items!
We lucked into finding a new store on the Bowery and moved there in 2003, bringing many of our supplies over in a wagon during a snow storm. This was our most popular and successful location. We were just a couple of blocks away from Tower Records & Other Music, as well as not far from St. Marks Pl. (where there were Kim’s Underground & Norman’s Sound & Vision). Our weekly live sets were now on Sundays and more folks started to show up almost every week. We also had anniversary celebrations as well as many other sponsored shows: Gong, Hatfield & the North, Present, Dr. Nerve, Kramer, Luscious Jackson, Fibre, Machine Gun, Thinking Plague, Dark Carnival, loads more! In December of 2006, Manny and I had the honor of curating at The (Old) Stone for the entire month! What a month it was! Here’s a short list: three members of Henry Cow: Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson & Chris Cutler, Hugh Hopper, Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, Tony Levin, Tisziji Munoz, Marilyn Crispell, Michael Moore, Joelle Leandre, Nels Cline, Vinny Golia… You can see the entire schedule up on the The Stone’s website.
We had to move from the Bowery in 2009, when our rent went from $4,000 to $10,000 a month so that is how we landed in Chinatown on the far east side. We were the only store on Monroe St. when we first opened here, just Chinese temples above and the projects across the street. Our Sunday night in-store series has continued ever since and I am proud to be there every week to give a chance to creative musicians from around the world to do their thing and inspire anyone who attends. We do have a handful of regulars who I’ve become good friends with after so many years like David Grollman and Douglas Lowinger. Just last week, Douglas passed away, he had leukemia and was in the hospital for a while. He used to come early to the Sunday shows just to speak with me and catch up on what was happening in our lives and around the world. He used to take pictures of the in-store sets and had a page on Facebook. He was a sweet guy and he will be sorely missed.
I just want to say thanks to all of you for your ongoing support. 29 years is a long time for any business, especially a record store (non-essential for some, ongoing inspiration for others) and especially in the Capitalist/Greedy Jungle of NYC. I would also like to thank all the DMG’s past & current employees that have worked here along the way, they are part of our history: Steve Popkin, Craig Lopez, Emporer Mike, John Hall, Manny Maris, Kat, Okkyung Lee, Dean Roberts, Scott Friedlander, Bret Sjerven, Mike Panico, Mikey IQ Jones, Chuck Bettis, Joe Merolla, Anders Zelinsky, Dave Miller, Eli Wallace, Austin Vaughn, Michael Vatcher, Frank Meadows, Alec Sturgis, John Mori and Charmaine Lee. Sorry if I missed anyone. This past month has been extremely difficult for yours truly as I haven’t been to the store in a month and I do miss being there and welcoming customers/friends, listening, talking, arguing, dancing, singing and hugging whomever needs some love. Tonight, join me in drinking (or imbibing) a toast to DMG, just turned 29 and we are still doing fine! -
Bruce Lee Gallanter, from DMG Newsletter May 8th, 2020