For David Martins, everything began over a bowl of cereal.
“I was staring at the milk and I said, ‘Record store. I’m going to open a record store.’”
That was back in December of 2016. Now, several months after his cereal epiphany, Mr. Martins’ vision has become a reality: “Chamber 43,” his newly-opened business on Raritan Avenue. Chamber 43 sells books, collectible items, CDs, and cassettes, as well as vinyl records from all genres. Whether it’s hip-hop, rock, jazz, or another type of music, Chamber 43 holds a collection of records both modern and old. The space, with a sleek layout, also features an array of different paintings, drawings, posters, and clothing along the walls. Chamber 43’s atmosphere is drenched in art and music, a characteristic of the store that Mr. Martins specifically desired.
“I’ve always had a background in art, and that’s why the store is the way it is,” said David. “Chamber 43 is a combination of all the different things I’m into.”
David Martins graduated from Highland Park High School in 2011 and opened DLM Recording Studio in Highland Park a few months later. Then, in 2012, he went to Minnesota to study at McNally Smith College of Music. All the while, David was making and engineering music for himself and for others. And now, by owning his recording studio, as well as Chamber 43, he has continued to keep himself engaged with various aspects of the music industry.
Opening a record store, however, was not his grand vision for his future in music. Much like the randomness of Mr. Martins’ cereal occurrence, the opportunity for him to open Chamber 43 arrived through happenstance.
“The vape store that used to be [at the Chamber 43 location] was closing, and I became friends with the owners….People were telling me, ‘You should try and make this space into something. Maybe make another studio.’”
Despite those recommendations, Mr. Martins wanted to build something that utilized the property’s appealing storefront on Main Street. After deciding to create a record store, Mr. Martins quickly observed that Chamber 43’s location attracted curious passerby – even while the store was still under construction. And, since the store’s official opening, that level community engagement has only continued to rise.
“People would look in the window and ask, ‘What is this place? What is it going to become?’ I was surprised [by the community’s reaction]. Chamber has been sustaining our business on foot traffic for the last month.”
The physical property, though, wasn’t the only noteworthy aspect of Chamber 43’s start-up process.
“To be honest, I don’t have any background with vinyl,” said Mr. Martins. “I barely collected beforehand. This has been a very big learning process for me. Vinyl does sound better to me in several different ways. I really think it’s the only proper way to listen to music.”
David Martins’ foray into vinyl comes at an increasingly popular time for records. According to Nielson, vinyl album sales increased by 10 percent from 2015 to 2016, representing the eleventh consecutive year of vinyl album sales growth. Thus, the market for vinyl is still viable, despite an increasing amount of ways to digitally consume music in modern society. The upward trend for vinyl was noted by Mr. Martins, but he also expressed caution about the feasibility of selling vinyl records.
“You have to be worried about things like that. But, records have been around for decades….There will always be a market for it,” he acknowledged. “But, that’s why I don’t sell just records. Even on Google, I changed this from being a ‘record store’ to a ‘variety store,’ because it’s not just records here.”
Undoubtedly, diversity of product is a crucial attribute of Mr. Martins’ vision for Chamber 43. He stressed that his space houses a rapidly growing assortment of art, books, and collectibles related to movies, pop-culture, and more. In the future, he wants to do sculpture with people and host art shows. He wants to see Chamber 43 involved with local musical acts, whether it’s through open mics or selling local music. He has over 25 ideas for different live events at Chamber 43, including some centered around the LGBTQ community, poetry, African-American history, the Latin American community, the Jewish community, and more.
“Culture is very important, of any type. And, my ideas [for Chamber 43] are going to expand. … It’s more about art to me. It’s less about vinyl and more about treating art for what it’s supposed to be.”
That commitment to cultural expression fuels Martins’ visions of Chamber 43 as larger than just a place to buy physical music. He believes that his cultural, artistic approach will create a meaningful relationship with the Highland Park community.
“If I just sit here and do nothing to support the community, I don’t feel like it’s going to support me,” said Mr. Martins. “We can work together as a community.”
Many of David Martins’ ideas for a community-infused business effort originate from his childhood experiences. Born in Brazil and raised in Highland Park, he was unimpressed while growing up by the town’s art options. That perspective has left him excited about the town’s potential moving forward.
“As a kid, I felt like there needed to be more art-related, more interesting things to do and see here in town. I had to leave town to see some cool stuff….Now, you have a lot more music-related and art-related options that just did not exist when I graduated high school.”
Chamber 43’s presence in Highland Park contributes to that art and music scene, providing another type of outlet for locals — young and old – to connect with creative expression in a variety of forms. With such varying offerings inside the store, its reach and allure extends to many different types of people within Highland Park.
“People in the community have been super supportive,” said Mr. Martins. “I think a lot of the locals here, like me, wanted something like this for a long time.”
Now, his opinions on the town sound drastically different than his opinions when he was growing up in the town. As a business-owner, he has observed the town’s flourishing new businesses, as well as the commercial benefits of Highland Park’s convenient location in between New Brunswick and Edison. Those experiences as a child, though, aid Martins’ appreciation of the town’s future, and encourage him to continue develop Chamber 43’s unique role within Highland Park.
“I think the possibilities [in Highland Park] are endless,” said Martins. “I feel like Highland Park is the place to be right now.”