Aerial pan past Manhattan’s gleaming skyscrapers and skim past the East River to the shores of Queens NY: the essential and glorious melting pot of New York City.
No other area is quite as culturally dense in the same wholesomely eclectic way. Sure, there’s gentrification in parts, but the majority of Queens consists of families from all over the world, working hard and living the dream. The people and the scenery up-end and change drastically every few miles. You can find any type of person, neighborhood, food or party there, and that’s the way the residents like it.
Record scratches and sirens blare. A car comes into view.
Neon trail blazing, DJ Spy and his crew roar down Horace Harding Expy., feeling fresh and ready to spin some hot beats…at a police-enforced 25 miles per hour.
Yeah, my crew had no clue about this DJ stuff. But, the mission had already been assigned, and we were the only spies presently available. The Chief had called us while he was at the airport, demanding that we find a DJ controller in Queens, right before hopping on a plane to some tropical paradise.
On the road again, my crew—Dick and Tracey—hadn’t listened to my advice. They were decked out in interview-appropriate attire. I had grabbed an old hoodie, not gotten a haircut in a few months and forgotten to shave. Even so, my friends’ preppy style fatally marked our group. No amount of “dudes” or “mans” would be enough to win us cred. Or so I feared.
I DJ NOW
181-24 Horace Harding Expy.
Fresh Meadows NY 11365
We pulled over to a small building right on Horace Harding Expy., which is Queens talk for “service road,” and we parked in the abandoned parking lot across the street. I DJ NOW stands on a corner, looking geometric, like builder blocks painted grey, but with a triangular, blue roof. The front windows are almost completely covered in signage, advertising deals and services, such as DJ starter packs and rentals. I told Tracey to stay with the car, in case we needed to bug out fast. Dick and I walked over to the building.
Three guys in beanies were hanging out inside, positioned to the left of the entrance in a corner pocket of the store. They looked over and said, “Hey,” but they stayed together. The store was set up well, considering the close quarters. It was strategically packed with gear, maximizing the floor-to-sale ratio. We floated around like big, dumb, lost balloons for a while. Given that this mission took place way back around the holiday season, we saw a sign on the wall for a holiday sale. It offered 15-percent off total purchases exceeding $249. We passed DJ controllers up near the front, and peeked into a back area with DJ lighting equipment spinning wildly.
We were messing with some gear when we heard “Any questions?” emanating from behind us. One beanie had bobbed over quietly. He had a laid-back demeanor.
Dick and I actually look alike (I keep him around in case I have to fake my own death), so I told the salesman we were searching for a DJ controller for our other brother.
“Oh, where’s he live?” the salesman casually asked, as I began to break into a cold sweat.
Not wanting our credibility to crack, I responded without hesitation, saying, “Right by Kissena Park…close by.” I knew that area well enough. Dick, meanwhile, was fidgeting beside me.
“Yeah…uh…he’s sleeping in!” Dick said in a compressed falsetto.
I let out a breath, and then held the next. “He still lives with our parents, but he’s been talking about learning to DJ.”
Nice, I thought, time to bring this home!
“We just want to get him out of the house,” I said, looking down at my feet. I felt some goodwill from the salesman after that.
He started to tell us about the store’s DJ starter pack, which was $348.40. We followed him to a computer, where he loaded up the I DJ NOW Web site, explaining that we could see all the holiday deals and prices there. The starter set came with a Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 Portable Two-Channel Controller, a pair of Bluetooth monitors, Numark HF125 Pro DJ Headphones and an American Audio Patch Cable. To my ear, it sounded like an impressive amount of gear for the money.
When Dick asked if there was a higher-end deal, the salesman pointed out a Pioneer DDJ-SX2 with Pro-X Case at $1,147 (List: $1,639.98). We also saw a Pioneer DDJ-SR Performance DJ Controller for $597. There were cheaper Numark Mixtrack models—Platinum and Pro 3—for $297 and $248, respectively. I brought up how cool it was that everything we were looking up would be discounted 15 percent, and he gave me a relaxed nod.
At that point, we thanked the man, said we’d check the Web site for all the holiday deals and then come back. He let us know that there was another store in Babylon that we could check out, too.
Later, I found out that I DJ NOW’s Web site offers free standard shipping. Delving deeper, I discovered that it has a warehouse in Ronkonkoma NY, which is out east on Long Island. If we purchased online, we wouldn’t have to wait very long!
We met up with Tracey at the car and headed to the next store.
113-25 Queens Blvd.
Forest Hills NY 11375
The main shopping district in Forest Hills NY is swanky, safely nestled a block away from Queens Blvd., which is a beast of a street. You can recognize Brooklynites walking down Queens Blvd., because they’re crouched close to the ground, so as not to fall away into the great expanse before them. The road is split in three: The major thoroughfare in the middle supports multiple lanes of two-way traffic, and there’s street parking segmented to the sides (heavily metered). There’s something like 12 or more lanes in total, I think. In classic Queens Blvd. style, we pulled up to Sam Ash to a packed curb. Tracey brought our neon chariot to a stop next to a fire hydrant and winked. Dick and I left her in the car, engine idling.
A sense of fatigue washed over us as we entered the store. There was no one to greet us by the entrance, which I had not expected from a Sam Ash. The floor was empty, but, because it was a Thursday afternoon, that wasn’t so strange. We could hear a saleswoman far off, akin to a fading echo, helping someone.
Dick suddenly pivoted and pointed, blurting out, “DJ section!”
“Good boy,” I affirmed.
The DJ section was in a dark corner near the front of the store. There were stage lights around, but they were all powered down, which gave the area a cave-like feel. On a music stand, near the entrance to the section, sat a stapled packet that read “Post-Holiday Blowout Blitz.” It was a printed table of information, including brand, product description, SKU, quantity, list price, sale price and percent off list price. The thickness of the packet led me to believe it wasn’t just this store’s inventory. But, then again, this was a large store…and Sam Ash doesn’t mess around. Dick laughed and grabbed the packet, rolling it up and slowly sticking it into his pocket. We both looked around, but no one was there to scold us. (That really took the fun out of it.)
We took it upon ourselves to explore the desolate and seemingly forgotten DJ area. We discovered a Numark Mixtrack Pro 3, regularly $249 (MSRP: $399), but at a Post-Holiday Blowout Blitz price of $219.77. There was a Pioneer XDJ-AERO for $398.77, a Pioneer DDJ-SZ Pro for $1,699.77 and a Denon MCX8000 Pro for $1,149.77.
I decided that we had better try to catch a salesperson. So, we got out of the DJ section and walked into the blinding light of the pro-audio area. We almost caught the coattails of an employee who was opening a door to a back room, into which he disappeared. Dick and I waited around for a couple more minutes, and then went back to the DJ section. We fiddled with a Pioneer DDJ-SR, which was $529.77 at the Post-Holiday Blowout Blitz price.
I yawned. Dick said he’d wait around…that I should head out without him. With that, I was on my way.
34-17 48th St.
Long Island City NY 11101
Tracey and I were getting chummy on the ride over to Guitar Center. We had both been to the location before, and we knew exactly what to expect. The employees there had always been friendly, and the store itself had a decent selection of gear in a wide-open layout.
Guitar Center can be tricky to find, if you haven’t been to it before. The giant sign on the building leads you to an entrance with an escalator, but there’s no additional signage inside. Up the escalator, one is treated to groups of soda-popped toddlers—with their parents, one would hope—streaming out of Chuck E. Cheese’s. It struck me that I had never seen a child in Guitar Center. I had seen them in hordes a store or two down at Five Below. (There’s a lot that MI retailers could learn from that place, especially pertaining to inventory-selection practices.)
Turn left once you see the mouse, and you’ve found the doors to GC, which open to a well-lit and inviting space. All the way back against the farthest wall is the pro-audio section; however, a few feet closer to the front, a sign reads “The DJ Experience.”
A salesman, all smiles, was already there, helping an older group of Spanish-speaking customers. I witnessed an almost athletic act of customer service, as he answered multiple people, in multiple dialects, simultaneously.
As I floated around the section, he, of course, locked on to me and asked if I needed anything.
I replied, “Yes,” and proceeded to give the spiel about my brother who wanted to DJ.
The salesman kept me on my toes by asking clarifying questions. However, I worked myself out of the hole I had dug, saying I was probably going to help him purchase it, and that we didn’t want to spend more than $1,500.
He suggested the Pioneer DDJ-SX2 at $997.99 or the Roland DJ-808 at $1,499. When I asked if he had anything cheaper, just in case I decided not to help my brother pay for it, he pointed out a demo Numark NS7II DJ Controller for $849.97.
I said I would have to hit up my brother to work things out. The salesman said I was welcome to come back anytime.
Mainline Pro Lighting, Sound & Video
218-12 Hillside Ave.
Queens Village NY 11427
My crew and I had originally tried to go to Mainline Pro Lighting, Sound & Video before Sam Ash, but the door was locked, and we had thought the place was closed. Through the window, we could see a single, bare bulb illuminating stacked cardboard boxes. Although the store’s address says Queens Village NY, it’s more on the Jamaica NY side, and that can get a bit scary at night. Dick and Tracey were both getting jumpy, so I decided to come back another day, alone, without the dead weight.
The first shopping day ended with us getting pizza nearby. Dick had been all bluster at the pizza place, and he started to bug the staff. Their conversation went something like….
“What’s your entry-level pie?!”
“You want a personal pizza, buddy?”
“Does it come with a case?”
“Yeah, if you get it to go…. You’re freaking me out, boss.”
Anyway, I made the trek back to the little strip mall off Hillside Ave. on a Saturday, around 2pm, as a light snow began to blanket the street. A metal gate was closed over the door. I had checked the company’s Web site in the morning, and it had said the place was open by 11am on Saturdays. So, I grabbed a late lunch, taking my time, and drove by again. Still closed. Resigned to my fate, I went home.
Re-checking the Web site, I confirmed the store’s hours. In addition, I read a couple of testimonials that attested to the establishment’s fine character and long history, as well as its pro-audio repair services. Sounded very promising!
The following Tuesday, I dropped by and refused to leave without getting inside. The door was still locked, but I could see people all the way in the back of the store this time. I searched and finally found a doorbell. When I heard the buzz, I was able to pull the door open. I could see The Chief’s rage-face fade away, “Back to the Future” style. Sweet relief!
Inside, the Owner was finalizing a sale with the only customer in the store. I waved eagerly, immediately regretting my goofiness, but, still, I was damn relieved. The Owner is a very friendly, feet-on-the-ground kind of sales guy. He asked what I was looking for. I said DJ controllers. “We got a lot in stock,” he assured me, adding, “Pioneer, Denon…whatever you need.”
He started to point out boxed gear and quote prices rapidly, in an off-the-cuff way that suggested that, perhaps, they were flexible…maybe even up for some haggling. I pulled out my phone to pretend-text Tracey and record some details, but the Owner blatantly asked if I was looking up prices. I had thought my millennial shielding would protect me from suspicion for being on my phone. Realizing that this had been a mistake, however, I pocketed the device.
Most of the prices he was listing were quickly lost to me. The hurried texts I sent only managed to include a Pioneer DDJ-SX2 and a Pioneer DDJ-SB2. When I asked if he had anything on display that I could play around with, he said, “No. Not at the moment.”
I remembered that there were signs for a DJ school outside, so I inquired about that. He told me that he has been running the store for 25 years, and maintaining classes for nearly the entire time. He handed me some small flyers with all the information on them. I must admit, I was slightly irked when I noticed that the store and class flyers both said, “Open every day, Monday–Saturday.”
OK…so I’ve bought a few things from Guitar Center in my day. I’ll admit it! I see nothing wrong with the way the chain handles its business on the consumer side. But, I’m also a fan of the indie guys, who have that undeniable “cool factor.” That immediately brings to mind I DJ NOW. I dug the fact that you could get your DJ fix right off the expressway. And, I felt like it was the most authentic experience. If I were a DJ, I could imagine myself visiting I DJ NOW frequently, even if only to hang out.
I liked Mainline’s Owner, despite all the running around. I think that, just because it might not be the store for me, its excellent reputation is probably well deserved. I’m not a DJ, after all—only a spy. Mainline has been in business for 25 years, which says a lot. Also, the Owner spins in Queens, which I respect. And that speaks volumes toward his classes.
Sam Ash’s DJ section felt abandoned. I might have hit the place at the wrong day or time, when that section’s salesperson wasn’t on shift. When I visited, however, the only sales help was in the form of a packet. So, well, there’s that.
Yup, I’m giving the sale to I DJ NOW. I felt comfortable and welcome there, and the store’s holiday pricing would have made for an insta-sale, were I seriously shopping.