Inside the Unlikely New York Record Store That Sells Vinyl to the Stars
When a 20-year-old Jamal Alnasr moved to New York City in 1990, he barely spoke English and only knew the names of 10 artists, like Madonna and Boney M, whom he’d heard on the radio. A native Palestinian, he arrived in the city after a few years spent living in Jordan as a teenager. He used music to teach himself English, then landed his first job at a record shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where he read CD pamphlets, learned lyrics, and researched artists’ influences. After four and a half years, he opened up his own shop, Village Music, down the street, with the money he had saved from working.
On opening day, Alnasr decided to put his collection of rare records up for sale, and made $5,000. “If people came in and meant to spend $20, they would spend $200,” he recalls. “I had a lot of rare stuff.” Word eventually got out that he was the man to see if you were looking for an impossible-to-find record. Upon receiving a request, Alnasr would raise his eyebrows and tell people to come back in four days, when he would undoubtedly have the record packaged up and waiting in the back room.
Even with this personal touch, Village Records eventually met the same sad fate as so many downtown music stores. In 2017, Alnasr could no longer afford his rent—which he says went up from about $160 in the ’90s to $5,000—and shuttered the shop. “I was broke as hell,” he admits. He went back to Palestine and sold some real estate his father had owned. When he returned to New York, he met a sympathetic landlord and opened Village Revival Records next door to his old shop. “I want to revive the Village because I’m really scared of change,” he says of the store’s new moniker. “I want to rebuild the ’90s.”
Over the last few years, the humble shop has become an unlikely magnet for stars such as Rosalía and Lana Del Rey, who are devoted customers. Bella Hadid didn’t have a record collection before she met Alnasr at Village Revival. An unlikely friendship soon formed between the 53-year-old store owner and the 26-year-old supermodel, who bonded over their shared Palestinian heritage and love for music. Hadid was interested to learn more about Alnasr’s journey to America, he says, and soon brought her mother, father, and sister Gigi to the shop. One night, Alnasr went to dinner with Hadid and her boyfriend at the nearby Minetta Tavern, where he gave the couple a turntable. “Now you guys are going to party tonight,” he told them.
Last year, Hadid posted a series of photos of Alnasr and the shop on her Instagram: shots of the two embracing, browsing the stacks, and eating dinner together, as well as images of albums by the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and one called Palestine Lives! Songs From the Struggle of the People of Palestine. “Please go visit my friend Jamal,” she wrote in the caption, accompanied by heart and Palestinian flag emojis. “All welcome, records for everyone!!!!”
In the early days of her career, Lana Del Rey lived in Greenwich Village. She was a regular at Village Records, where she purchased albums by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone. “She was a very shy person in the beginning but she is very down to earth once she feels comfortable with you,” says Alnasr. Near the shop’s backroom, Alnasr keeps a locked glass cabinet of autographed records. To the left of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan sits a vinyl of Lana’s 2012 debut, Born to Die, signed “To Village Music and Jamal, lots of love.”
Alnasr’s lack of filter and stubborn sensibility give Village Revival a gritty, old-school New York charm. The week of his birthday, Alnasr was blasting “Disco Inferno” in the shop, coming off a high from going to a nightclub for the first time in several years. His is perhaps the only record store left in Manhattan where you are likely to find the owner smoking a cigarette behind the counter.
Alnasr has a habit of turning patrons into friends. A question about a particular Rolling Stones album might lead unexpectedly to an hour-long conversation about the influence of American blues musicians on the British band’s work. From there, Alnasr may pull out some records from the backroom, where he keeps his most prized and unusual finds. Soon enough, a customer might find themselves, like Hadid, having dinner with him.
Dave Davis, the trombonist of the Sun Ra Arkestra, began his friendship with Alnasr two years ago, over a conversation about rare big-band jazz records. Alnasr, who used to see the Arkestra play in his early days as a New Yorker, immediately connected with Davis, a Philadelphian who stops by the store whenever he visits the city. Davis collects 78 RPM records, a format developed in the late 19th century that was commercially obsolete by the 1950s, still highly prized by some collectors but not stocked in many shops. “He is the only one I’ve found in New York who still believes in those,” Davis says of Alnaser. “I travel a lot, and when you go record shopping, you can pretty much conquer a record store, and it stays the same,” Davis continues. “But the one thing about his record store is that it doesn’t stay the same. He is constantly getting new records.”
Davis and other artists also value Village Revival as a place to meet and network with fellow musicians and industry professionals. Chris Pizzolo, founder of the boutique label Immediate Family Records, once walked into the original store after playing guitar at a blues jam at the Bitter End down the street. He walked out with a copy of the Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls and a new friendship with Alnasr, who’d been playing the album over the soundsystem. Alnasr soon invited Pizzolo and his band to perform in the store, which eventually became a regular gig. Pizzolo often came to Alnasr for guidance, especially after he decided to start his own label. The record store owner’s advice: print more vinyl.
Immediate Family Records was recently nominated for its first Latin Grammy: a Best Contemporary Tropical Album nod for the Pedrito Martinez Group’s 2021 release Acertijos. “It’s cool because I started going there in my early 20s, and now I’m in my mid-30s, and he still stays there and gives everyone the same opportunity,” Pizzolo says.
Pizzolo introduced his peers to Alnasr and Village Revival, including singer-songwriters Cody Simpson, whom Pizzolo manages, and Sizzy Rocket, whose album Anarchy Pizzolo helped to release. “Jamal’s shop is truly a one-of-a-kind experience,” says Simpson. “It’s a treasure trove for music lovers.”
Rocket first met Alnasr in 2021, when Village Revival hosted a meet-and-greet for her fans before a performance nearby. “It was just the perfect spot, because the store is small and intimate,” Rocket says. “I walked in, and he already had my music playing and the videos going. It was just very welcoming.”
If any customer, celebrity or otherwise, goes into Village Revival looking for a particular record, Alnasr will do his best to find it for them. He sources many records from personal collections he purchases, sometimes from other industry professionals who have died or moved away. He recalls a customer who had worked in music journalism who once called him about selling him a prized rare find: an early pressing of The Velvet Underground & Nico. “I don’t find them, they find me,” he says.
“There are probably 200,000 records in that store, but the craziest thing is that he knows where everything is,” Pizzolo says. “You could ask for a rare Édith Piaf bootleg from the ’60s that someone made in France, and he’s got it cataloged somewhere.”
A 74-year-old customer and lifelong resident of the neighborhood named John Deglialberti fondly recalls an instance when Alnasr helped him find a copy of the 1962 album Sinatra and Strings, which Deglialberti was having trouble locating elsewhere. “When I hear these songs, it brings back a lot of memories,” he says. “Not only for myself, but also for friends of mine.”
Alnasr’s shop has evolved over the years, but he remains committed to his mission to revive the bohemian spirit of Greenwich Village’s past. “I will not change what I do,” he says. “It’s my love.”