Stroll past The Mixtape Shop, and you’ll know straight away that it’s a shiny new cafe—but that’s only the half of it.
“The brightness, the white walls—they became steps to make it more welcoming for more people,” says partner Brian Thomas, seated in his new cafe-cum-record-store in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
Well over a decade ago, as mom-and-pop record shops succumbed to the MP3, Thomas’ opening might have seemed ill-timed. And while record sales have actually gone up, record stores are still teetering—which is why Thomas hasn’t opened a record shop (or at least, not only a record shop).
Think of The Mixtape Shop like the mullet of concept stores: Business in the front (a minimalist cafe), party in the back (a hidden record shop, complete with a DJ booth). A cafe has an easier time standing alone, while a digital-age record store will benefit from the buzzy habitat.
It’s an evolution of a story that began in 2009: While Thomas was in art school in California, he co-founded MixTape Club, a website that regularly published batches of mixtapes. It started as a way to bring artists and amateurs together, to share new tracks.
In 2014, Brian Thomas and his partner Erica Roden began to consider bringing the MixTape Club into the physical retail space, inspired by other mixed-use businesses they’d seen anywhere from NYC to Berlin and Tokyo. They dipped their toe in the water last year, opening an online record shop, and after learning the ropes, they eventually found a storefront in Bed-Stuy for their brick-and-mortar.
But they knew that record stores had the tendency to intimidate the casual music fan.
To them, classic record shops were known for being a bit worn around the edges, a clutter of titles in various bins, which were only fun to browse if you knew exactly what you were digging for. The everyday passerby might hesitate to explore such a place—which was usually dim, dusty, and far from welcoming.
They opted for a complete refresh.
Inside The Mixtape Shop, the cafe’s clean-lined interior is minimal and airy. Plank floors are painted white, and surfaces are all light-wood accented with leafy green plants and cacti. The tin ceiling, painted black, is highlighted with a succession of thin overhead bulbs that flood the space with light.
The coffee bar, helmed by a shiny La Marzocco Linea that is visible from the street, serves Intelligentsia Coffee (Black Cat for espresso, and Frequency for drip) while a case of treats from nearby Saraghina Bakery offers a range from speck and Robiola croissants to sausage and fennel biscuits.
Once you’re inside, you can’t miss the music.
Beyond the bar, about halfway through the shop, the space eases into an open layout where vinyl is stocked in the spotlight. For most, there’s no need to explore beyond the cafe area, but Thomas and Roden’s intention is that, while customers await their latte, curiosity might just handle the rest.
“People will order their coffee and then do a loop and around the store and look,” says Thomas. “But after visiting a few times, they’ll start asking questions and start picking things up—it can spark the interest.”
Unlike timeworn shops with miscellaneous finds, there’s a pristine order to the small collection, all encased in tidy rows and right-angles. A long, jet-back DJ booth punctuates the back wall and hosts DJs every few weeks, while two listening stations are permanently up for grabs.
Along the walls, a handful of featured records are propped on shelves. It’s no panoply—beats for sale are a special curation, largely house, dance, and techno music along with a sprinkling of music that helped birth those genres, like soul, jazz, and folk. It gets personal, too, with Brazilian funk and boogie, influenced by the owners’ time in the country.
It’s a distilled approach to the classic record shop experience—paid for by the modest price of a great cup of coffee.
Keith Flanagan is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, contributing to Condé Nast Traveler, Tasting Table, USA Today, Paste Magazine, The Robb Report, and more. Read more Keith Flanagan on Sprudge.