Super Elevation co-owner Tom Noble digs in his new digs (Scott Lynch)
Jan 26, 2022
After a devastating flood, Superior Elevation reopens in a new location
‘Great prices and they know their shit’: The record store's new location will have its grand opening on Saturday
Seven months after Hurricane Ida devastated its stock, beloved record store Superior Elevation has risen—quite literally to a higher elevation—and reopened on Grand Street in Williamsburg.
The new shop, which will be open from 12 to 8 p.m. daily, held a soft opening Jan. 15, only posting about the new location on Instagram stories and essentially “leaving the door open” for people to come by. There are still kinks to work out, but Superior Elevation redux is less cluttered, boasts custom record bins and a sign from muralist Steve Powers, and an entire second floor for storage and processing.
“It’s still the same pricing, still the same records. It’s just going to look 1,000 times better and feel 3,000 times better, and be 100 times more fun and more accessible,” says Superior Elevation owner and co-founder Tom Noble. “And just a better thing in general.”
You can see for yourself when the shop hosts a grand opening event at 616 Grand Street on Saturday, January 29, with a clutch of local DJs and diggers. Down the road Noble plans to hold pop-up events, in-stores and barbecues in Superior Elevation’s backyard. He says he would also like to bring back the store’s DJ school, which was previously taught by DJs John Swan and Daniel Tipton.
“It was always a place I knew I could go and get really well priced old rock, soul, funk albums. And I’m also big into film scores and they always have a pretty nice little selection,” says former Greenpoint resident Carlo Johnson, who made a special trip from Connecticut to shop at the soft launch. In his cart was a smattering of James Brown and the soundtrack for “Jaws 3.” “It looks as nice as it was and now even better. And probably foot traffic here is going to be great for them.”
Superior Elevation was opened in 2015 by Noble and his then-wife Ellen Kanamori, when it occupied a basement warehouse space on a fairly desolate (and often dangerous) stretch of White Street off the Morgan L. The shop served casual collectors and well-known DJs alike, and quickly became known for its deep crates of soul, reggae, disco, gospel, rock and more on LP and 45s. In September 2021, unprecedented rains flooded the store with five feet of water and damaged 75 percent of Superior’s stock beyond repair. Noble says you could smell the mold coming from the shop three blocks away.
Although staff managed to pump all the water out, Superior closed for months. And while the store had insurance, there is no guaranteed payout and Noble expects to be screwed over. Instead, Superior’s community ponied up: the shop raised nearly $17,000 through GoFundMe to pay for a new location (which Noble had been scouting prior to the flood anyway) and stock; the owner of Noble’s home cut him a check; West Coast diggers and Superior regulars DJ Jeremy Sole and Melody Bar’s Eric Weisacre, along with local DJ Nickodemus sent profits from a collective event – completely unannounced and unexpected.
“The most important thing about the flood, to me, was the GoFundMe page and seeing how hard people rallied for the shop. It was insane,” Noble says.
Closing for good was never an option either. “It’s nothing I’d even think of because it’s so phenomenally easy [for a seller] to get records in this city,” Noble says. “If I was out buying collections, I probably could have the shop back up to snuff in about two months, just doing what I normally do every day. The flood provided an excuse to get rid of the clutter and what he calls the “toxic shit” that didn’t sell at the original location.
Despite incalculable losses—including trashed $400 private press gospel records that had been secured directly from the artists—Noble is excited and hopeful about the new Superior Elevation. And although Noble worries about the “culture shock” some regulars might feel in the new spot, customers at the soft launch seemed similarly excited.
“[The original location] was a store I went to probably every weekend to dig around,” says Bushwick resident Ben Shirai. The new location “feels like it’s always been here, it feels very familiar.”
Superior Elevation’s new chapter is only the latest installment in Noble’s record career, which has also included a stint as a rare soul DJ. He previously ran a record shop and reissue company called Lotus Land in Milwaukee with his brother and another partner, where they sold modern CDs and some Jamaican records. After moving to Los Angeles, Noble started a reissue label dedicated to modern disco, then a mail order reissue business. Nobel and Kanamori (who Noble credits with developing much of Superior’s marketing, including the name, and keeping him focused) then moved to New York, where the couple refocused Superior’s online business into a brick and mortar.
Yet there’s no secret sauce to Superior’s success or popularity, beyond its New York location. “We have unparalleled access to all the records that were played in all the clubs since day one in New York City from ‘40s juke joints to Paradise Garage to Michael Alig’s club where he sawed off his drug dealer’s legs,” Noble says. “We get all the record labels that come and go in New York City; we get all the employees that are like cheating on their record labels and coming in and trading the indie rock records for their little secret techno fetish. We get all the employees who used to work at DFA that have 300 white labels, and it’s time to get rid of them so they sell to us.”
Kanamori posits that every store in the city pretty much has the same records; what differentiates each is aesthetic, and how the records are presented and integrated or prioritized.
A store’s staff is also crucial to its success.
“I’m a lifelong music nerd and I’m as eclectic and eccentric as you can get. I know a lot about almost every genre there … and I just pay attention to trends,” says Noble, who is now the sole owner of the store. “I know what you should focus on, what you should forget about. And it’s just something that comes naturally to me. Those things are our brand identity.”
Juliet Swango of the Phenomenal Handclap Band lives just down the street from the new Superior and snagged records from Slade, Marianne Faithfull, Bohannon and a 12” of the 1981 dance single “This Beat Is Mine” during the soft opening. “We used to go to the old location so we were excited that they moved,” she says. “Nice people, great records, great prices and they know their shit.”
With additional reporting by Scott Lynch
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