Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Old New York: Colony Records Packs Up the Beatles and Elvis

By Mitch Broder

The “Yellow Submarine” lunchbox will cost $650 till the end.

The Colony never changed anything, so it’s not about to change that.

You won't find nostalgia like that which is on display at Colony Records anywhere else in New York City
The Colony is Colony Records, a Theater District treasure-hunt of sheet music, recorded music, and musical relics. It’s been around since 1948, but now it appears to be closing, possibly in just two weeks, though at the Colony you never know.

Michael Grossbardt, the CEO, told me that on September 15th he will shut down the store that his father, “Nappy” Grossbardt, opened sixty-four years ago. He also assured me that he will conduct no going-out-of-business sale, which is appropriate for a store whose legend has rarely involved bargains.

Years ago, I experienced Colony as a frustrating place, because it had things that nearly took my breath away at prices that finished the job. But the problem was me. As soon as I started thinking of the place as a museum, I could go in knowing that the things I wanted were there only to look at.

This Old New York classic record store is great to look at but not touch some of the incredible memorabilia

Colony will end its storied life as a museum indeed, a shop that gave in to CDs in the nineties but to nothing much since then. It’s worth a last visit, since the lack of a sale is keeping the place intact, and since you will never, at least in this city, see its likes again.

Colony Records celebrates classic Old New York performers like Sinatra and Elvis

Stroll past the tourist trinkets, and find new CDs and DVDs selling for $25 and up. Then find old LPs selling for $35, $40, $75, $125 and up. Then find some LPs selling for $15. They are the same ones you have in your closet that you couldn’t pay your local record store to take.

Colony Records is a great place for a musician to stop by and thumb through the sheet music and songbooks that adorn the walls

Much of the rest of the space displays sheet music and songbooks, recalling the days when songs were born in the Brill Building, which has long housed the store. But look deeper and find the display cases hoarding remnants of music history that you won’t find in real museums because they can’t handle the Colony’s markup.

Treasure hunters will find a trove of Old New York classics at Colony Records including this Elvis doll
Top prizes include that Beatles lunchbox at $650, and an Elvis-in-uniform prototype doll, at $1,800. Among other treasures are a Fabian pillow ($150), a Dick Clark “American Bandstand” Secret Diary ($200), and a Supremes Special Formula White Bread wrapper, priced no doubt for its irony, at $600.

As fascinating as the artifacts are the display cases themselves. They are not, to be gentle, meticulously maintained. The case labeled “Elvis” holds the Beatles stuff. The case labeled “Beatles” holds no Beatles stuff. The case that holds Elvis stuff has no label and, besides the Elvis stuff, holds the Michael Jackson Cordless Electric Microphone.

The “Streisand” case has a Streisand bag, but it also has TV Guides with cover photos of Chad Everett and Louise Lasser. But the “Frank Sinatra” label is accurate. Its case offers unused Sinatra tickets and unused Sinatra eight-tracks, which are about equally useful.

If Chad Everett and Louise Lasser don’t ring a bell, just know that they are hot stars compared with some others for sale. On high glass shelves, which incidentally display the dust of the decades, are the Burns & Allen Coffee Server and a poster for the Popsicle “Parade of Stars,” whose stars included Dick Haymes, Arthur Godfrey, and Fanny Brice.

It doesn't get much more classic then a Supremes Special Formula White Bread wrapper that you'll find for sale at Colony Records.

Keep looking up and see 8-by-10s of the likes of Leonard Nimoy, Daryl Hannah, Phil Donahue, Demi Moore, and Paul Hogan. They run around $100, though Demi is $200. They may all have been autographed once, but the evidence has often faded.

The doors to this Old New York establishment are now closed, but Colony Records served the city well.

The Colony, of course, wasn’t always like this. It was a rockin’ place, as most places that sold records once were. It opened at Broadway and 52nd Street and soon became a musical landmark. It had a famous DJ named Symphony Sid spinning platters in the window.

The music that played in the store also played out on the street. Getting heard on the street speakers could make a record a hit. The store continued to rock even after it moved in the seventies. Sinatra and Lennon shopped at the Colony on their way to becoming display cases.

Patrons were left with a great feel of nostalgia when Colony Records closed it's door left with only the simple saying With the seismic changes in the music business, the Colony courted tourists. But apparently, what got it in the end was rent. The owners, Michael said, could once have bought their building for $250,000. It was last sold five years ago for about $150 million.

Michael told me that what doesn’t sell in the store will just get boxed up and eventually put back on sale online.

So go now to look or to buy — but not to save. And if you’re really well off, and you really like this blog, keep in mind that I really want the Dick Clark Secret Diary.

Old New York will always remember Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve and as the founder of American Bandstand, he just so happened to keep a secret diary that could have been purchased at Colony Records.

Take a last spin at Colony Records, 1619 Broadway, at 49th Street, in New York City.


  1. Wow. Another one of those places you just think will be there forever. Sad. Hope you get the Dick Clark diary, Mitch.

  2. Sad when good things come to their end. Thanks for the post Mitch ~

  3. I feel like I'm in the store/museum with you...discovering the "things that nearly took [your] breath away at the prices that finished the job." Love it all...the Elvis case w/Beatles stuff...the dust on the shelves...the dj once spinning records that were heard outside. The seismic change in the music industry is incomparably reflected here. Encore.

  4. By the way, I want the Burns & Allen Coffee Server.

  5. If the Dick Clark diary is so valuable, why is the price tag stuck onto it, right over the graphic, so that the image/ink may come off onto the back of the sticker when peeled up? That is what I want to know.
    P.S. I love the door handles the best.