NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A one of a kind interactive music space and coffee bar opened in downtown New Brunswick on February 26.
Chamber 43, a vinyl record store, coffee bar, event space and recording studio, has relocated to 356 George Street from Highland Park four months after closing amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On October 5, Chamber 43 founder and owner David L. Martins announced the store’s closing on its Instagram page, writing that he was “uncertain of any timely re-opening.”
“It wasn’t looking like I was going to re-open for another year,” Martins told New Brunswick Today on December 7.
“I was going to take some time off, and come back to it with a clean slate next year.”
But things started looking up when Martins’ October post drew in a new business partner.
Martins now shares ownership of Chamber 43 with his good friend Jimmy Fasulo, a New Brunswick musician who first encountered Martins’ shop when his band was booked there for a show in May 2018.
With Fasulo on board, the next break was the 356 George Street location coming available; international coffeehouse chain Caffè Bene was vacating the 7,000 square foot space.
It was the first and only New Brunswick location the Chamber team looked into.
“It’s just too many things that were perfect about it for me to pass up on,” Martins said. A deal came together in a matter of weeks.
From 1988 to 2013, this same location was home to Amber Lion Antiques, where Martins used to shop for vinyl records and vintage items when he worked a block over on Bayard Street.
“To be owning a business in this space is really interesting,” Martins said. “It’s come full circle.”
The store’s location and size match up with its new tenant’s lofty goals. “It’s big enough to have a studio in there, and have coffee and have events and all that,” Martins said. “We just needed to find a way to make it happen.”
“Things just seemed to work out in a way that’s not expected,” Martins added.
The only major hiccup in the Chamber 43 restart was a two-month delay in the city approving its food license.
The store had initially targeted a January 8 opening date, but will now open for business Friday, February 26 at 7 a.m.
Founded in 2016 in Martins’ hometown of Highland Park, Chamber 43 sold vinyl records and vintage items including clothes, furniture, figurines and more.
The space also hosted open mics and live shows with musicians across varying genres, from hip hop and rock to jazz and rap.
That’s where Fasulo and Martins met, and the two “realized over time we’re kind of the same person in a really weird way,” Fasulo said.
All the while Martins has been running the recording studio that he founded at eighteen years old, originally located around the corner from 356 George Street at 46 Bayard Street, called DLM Recording Studio.
Now all of Martins’ pursuits will be met in one location – and they will be supercharged by the premier coffee experience he has long sought to build into his business.
“Our main focus is getting the best possible records that we can find in the store, and having good competitive prices there, and then bringing a level of coffee to New Brunswick that hasn’t yet been seen,” Martins said.
To that end, Chamber 43 has partnered with New York-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a Certified B Corporation that balances purpose and profit, and which offers premium product and sourcing via its self-described pioneering Direct Trade model.
“People are wondering why we’re doing the coffee,” Martins said. “But it’s another passion of mine. I’m from Brazil, I came here from Brazil as a kid. I have goals in the future to go back to South America and work with farmers there on stuff like coffee. So this is sort of the beginning of that.
“Really since 2016 I’ve been planning on doing a coffee shop integrated with the record shop,” Martins said. “It’s just that we’re finally able to do it now.”
Fasulo also separately aspired to open his own hybrid coffee and records store someday, not knowing of Martins’ plans.
He has years of experience running an espresso bar, and his daily charge will be Chamber 43’s coffee bar.
“The way that it’s pretty much crumbling down is, Dave is gonna be the big man in charge of records, and I’m the little dude in charge of coffee,” Fasulo said. “That’s gonna be my baby.”
They’ve partnered with Howell-based BrutaliTeas for loose leaf tea, which will be brewed in store and also sold to take home.
The coffee bar and record shop will be fully operational upon opening.
Other aspects of the business, like the recording studio, live music events and grab-and-go food items, will follow later.
The basement will eventually house the recording studio and possibly an antiques showroom.
“We may do some other stuff downstairs, we haven’t decided what we’re gonna do with that,” Martins said. “Having a lounge-y, more quiet area would be nice.”
The actual recording entity that will be based under the Chamber 43 flag is separate from Martins’ other venture and is called Monk Fidelity Sound Lab.
Everything about Monk Fidelity Sound Lab, from its equipment to its products to its aesthetic, will be fully integrated into the Chamber 43 space, with one goal being to sell records on the store floor that are made in the basement studio below.
Martins grew up in Highland Park, and he was already collecting comic books, figurines, and other vintage items when he added vinyl records to the mix and established Chamber 43 in 2016.
But the store was always meant to be more than records and vintage. Martins wrote that he “envisioned the need for a space to give voice to artists, run by artists.”
At Chamber 43’s new location, Martins says he is exceeding that vision.
The new Chamber 43 experience “furthers the vision of having a full blown artistic space,” Martins said, noting that the prior location hosted a number of do-it-yourself (DIY) shows that made it a community space.
“Those open mics were a big deal, having a lot of people come through, and just no matter what their religious beliefs were, political beliefs were, artistic visions – everybody had a voice,” Martins told NBToday.
“Everybody was able to speak freely and be heard, and I think that going forward it’s going to be even more so, because we’re really solidifying what we do as a creative space, and what we bring to the table, especially with the new hires that we’re making.”
Fasulo views the new shop as “a space to legitimize the underground culture in New Brunswick.”
“I’ve been out here going to shows for at least 8 or 9 years now,” Fasulo said, “And there’s never been a space that was expressly for the people who go to those shows.”
“There are record stores,” he added, “But there’s no coffee shop that feels like a home for the community, and there’s no place throwing shows that isn’t a basement that’s like a fire hazard.”
When discussing where to re-open Chamber 43 after closing in Highland Park in October, Jersey City was also considered.
But Fasulo says he told Martins, “‘You have so many years of brand recognition in this area, the majority of your consumer base is here, you serve the New Brunswick underground community when you host shows… Just bring it to them and expand here.’”
In November, this newspaper profiled a “Day in the Life” of Hub City’s only vinyl record store at the time, Spina Records, located at 118 Easton Avenue.
Now with Chamber 43 moving to George Street, there are two record stores in New Brunswick – a first since the 1990’s, and a testament to a healthy music scene in normal times, let alone amidst the pandemic.
Martins feels the two record stores are complementary towards a shared initiative in this city, for residents and visitors alike.
“In places like Lambertville and New Hope, the attraction to those places is the amount of vintage stores that are there, and bars and stuff,” Martins said.
“And while having multiple record stores is in some ways competitive, it also helps everybody out, because now you can set a destination point for New Brunswick and hit Spina, and come to Chamber 43, and go to Revilla Grooves and Gear in Milltown in like a five minute drive for each one of them.”
The Chamber team expects to hit the ground running and has been working out the best Grand Opening plan they can manage in light of COVID-related restrictions.
Martins says there will be exclusive releases, discounts and merchandise to start with. A registration-only coffee tasting event was held, and they’re looking into what’s possible with music events.
“Whether it’s outdoors, whether it’s on George Street in the blocked-off section, if we can do some open mics there. And then eventually inside the store as well, bringing back all the events, doing coffee tastings, doing more networking events, and integrating more with New Brunswick and Rutgers than we did before.
“We’re definitely bringing all those shows back,” Martins said. “Rock shows, hip hop shows, different types of bands, jazz, basically whatever we can get our hands into.”
Ben Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today.
In 2022, he won the first place award for Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists for his coverage of the music scene in New Brunswick, past and present.