I'm back exploring our town again, and I hope that you missed me as much as I missed you. There are so many interesting businesses and people to discover and share with you.

It's been said that everything old is new again, and Almost Ready Records proves this to be true. Harry Howes opened his store on Black Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, and business has been booming ever since. That date is designated as one of two Record Store Days, the other of which comes on April 15, when customers can find exclusive record label releases and special promotions.

Almost Ready Records is an apt name for this business, as it truly looks as if it's almost ready to open. The former site of a short-lived women's gym affected by mandatory pandemic business closures, the walls are still painted in black and neon chartreuse, bold color choices, and some rooms in the shop are loaded almost floor to ceiling with boxes, artwork and equipment. It's still a work in progress.

As Harry told me during my visit there, “We are currently in the soft opening stage here in town. My first store is still open in Brooklyn, and we thrived and stayed open during the pandemic. In fact, 2020-2021 were great years for business. People were home and had time to listen to records, and wanted to collect more.”

The stock includes vinyl records, CDs and cassettes. Who knew that playing records again would be a “thing”? So many people got rid of their collections and switched to digital media or music streaming services, much to their chagrin.

Harry's set up a listening station with a Technic 1200 turntable and headsets where you can hear your picks before purchasing them. He also plans to sell turntables in the future, since you need something to play the records on, and expand to carrying movies.

When I asked Harry about his background in music, he said, “I've been into music since I was 5 years old and played in punk bands in high school. I have so many plans for Almost Ready Records and should be open seven days a week soon, as there's so much interest in what I sell.” Customers can also sell or trade here, as well.

To lessen his daily commute, with his Brooklyn store still going strong, Harry moved to town in August 2022, purchasing what he called “the Stagecoach House, the oldest home in Montclair, built in the 1800s.” In fact, the house predates Montclair's formation as a township in 1868. 

He has his work cut out for him, renovating and fixing up the house with his fiancee and preparing for the store’s grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony this spring.

Stop by, meet Harry, go through the racks of records on the walls and enjoy listening to your old favorites and new picks. I was thrilled to see vinyl from Adam Ant, who had top-10 hits from 1980 to 1983. I had a huge crush on him, and my favorite song was “Antmusic.”

I'll be adding that to my collection soon, as I'm one of the people who got rid of an extensive record collection because it was so “back in the day.”

 

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Neil Grabowsky
Robin Woods with the Rev. John Mennell at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. (NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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In the spirit of everything old being new again, I spent a wonderful morning with the Rev. John Mennell from St. Luke's Episcopal Church. He asked that I just call him John. The church now has a sprawling campus after outgrowing its original location; it was founded in 1860. It's the oldest Episcopal Church in Montclair, 133 years at 73 South Fullerton Ave. 

The Rev. Henry Marsh was the first rector of the established church, and we've had the down-to-earth, chatty, friendly and knowledgeable Mennell at the helm for more than 16 years.

Being raised as Jewish, I wasn't quite sure what being Episcopalian means, and John explained it as, “We can try to know God and share his love. Walking with him does so much for us. We invite you to see God and honor your path, look outside of ourselves and ways to serve others.” That's some old-time religion that I can embrace. 

This wasn't John's original career path, as he attended the University of Notre Dame and majored in American studies. After graduating, he worked for Procter & Gamble. When I asked him if he felt the calling to the church, he said, “ A priest at Notre Dame asked me if I ever thought of becoming a priest, and although I was deeply involved in the church since high school, I never thought I'd follow a different path. 

“A revelation literally came to me in a dream a few years later, and I spent three more years studying at General Theological Seminary.”

Things are slowly getting back to normal after the pandemic, and St. Luke's holds Sunday worship services, both in person and via Zoom. The 8 a.m.service is a simple communion service with a sermon, quiet and contemplative. At 9 a.m., families with children ages 2-7 or thereabouts can gather for Celebrate!, a short hands-on service geared to little ones and their short attention span. 

John showed me the separate area in the sanctuary where this is held, and it's an inviting small space where children sit on a colorful rug while John gets down on the floor with them and gives them their first taste of worship and prayer. Then, at 10 a.m., there is a big communion and music service where hymns are sung accompanied by the church choir, as the deeply faithful spend time in prayer and meditation.

I can't leave out more wonderful things that St. Luke's is also known for, especially Toni's Kitchen. Established 40 years ago at the church, it serves hot meals to go and distributes groceries to those who show up Thursday through Sunday at various times. Go to toniskitchen.org for schedules and programs provided. John asked that we not consider the people who make use of Toni's Kitchen's resources as being homeless, because many of the families are food-insecure, or seniors who need grocery and meal delivery. 

He said, “We share the resources we have with each other, and don't put labels on people. I see the absolute best of people.” There's a spiffy new Toni's Grill food truck around town, where the church finds another way to bring food to the community. You can go to the truck and ask for a packaged meal, or order and pay what you wish, as a donation. 

Toni's Closet, which is my favorite secondhand shop in town, sells everything (sometimes new) from furniture to clothing to toys and housewares at rock-bottom prices. All proceeds and donations help support the church's operation. 

Don't forget the annual Pumpkin Patch and sale each October, where I happily purchase dozens of pumpkins and gourds, using the pretty backdrop for photo ops with the kiddies.

We're bringing in the new with the old music, and celebrating some good old-time religion at the same time. Let's hope for a year full of health, happiness and some surprises, too. You know I have more tricks up my sleeve.

In this article:

Almost Ready Records
537 Bloomfield Ave.
917-600-9534

The Rev. John Mennell
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
mennell@slechurch.org

Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She's written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director's Award for Essex County Legacies Essay contest.