Short of some last-minute miracle, the days are now numbered for our cross-border region’s last iconic store from the golden age of record buying
By Doug Draper
Posted June 29th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
This year is turning out to be the roughest one yet in more than a decade of rough years for record stores and for those of us who love shopping in them for music.
It was almost 10 year ago to this day, on June 30th, 2007, to be exact, that one of the most iconic record stores in Canada – Sam the Record Man’s flagship store on Yonge Street in Toronto – closed its doors for the last time after close to 50 years of spawning a chain of Sam outlets in St. Catharines, Welland and numerous other communities across the nation that were all gone by then.
Seven years later, in 2014, the last of the original Sunrise Records stores, including a very good one at the Pen Centre plaza in St. Catharines, Niagara closed, leaving just one major competitor, HMV, hanging on until early this year when it filed for bankruptcy and proceeded to close all its stores, including its last remaining outlet in this Niagara region.
It was looking pretty bad for record store fans, but there was still some light on the horizon.
HMV hadn’t quite closed when word leaked out that a new edition of Sunrise Records would open in the same Pen Centre location, which it did this May.
And at least we could still shuffle off to Record Theatre in Buffalo, which has been like an Aladdin’s cave for music lovers, offering an unbelievable choice of titles in virtually every genre of music, since its flagship store opened on Main and Lafayette in this great Western New York city in 1976.
Then in March of this year, came the sad news that Record Theatre’s founder, Leonard ‘Lenny’ Silver, died at age 90. A week later, came an announcement from a company controlling his estate that one of the two last stores in the string of Record Theatre outlets Lenny Silver began opening in the Western New York area in the 1970s – one at a plaza in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst – was being closed.
Oh, but the grand old dame – the flagship store off Buffalo’s Main Street and Lafayette Avenue intersection – would remain open, we were assured. “With the one store serving as a hub, we plan to do more in the community, through in-store performances and things like that,” Michael Pierce, chief financial officer for the holding company was quoted saying in The Buffalo News this March. “We just want everyone to know we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Well, the ‘not going anywhere’ didn’t last very long.
Barely three months after Lenny Silver’s death and less than two months after the last grand store of its kind in the region joined what are left of independent record stores across North America in celebrating a very successful 10th anniversary of ‘Record Store Day’ (with customers lined up outside the doors of Record Theatre this past 22nd day of April), the company in control announced – much to the shock of the dedicated staff and so many of the store’s long-time customers – that it will be closing permanently, when what’s left of its vast stock runs out in the weeks immediately ahead.
Go on Record Theatre’s website at www.recordtheatre.com now and what you see instead of the usual long list of new releases of music now in is word that every time in the store is now discounted and the following brief message – “This is the last remaining Record Theatre store. We are closing. We are very sad and we will miss you all!”
Somehow, I still have to believe that someone with enough money and love for record stores will come along and bring this wonderful music institution back from the brink before that red neon ‘We’re open’ sign in the window is switched off for the last time.
There are other smaller, independent record stores around the Niagara, Ontario and Buffalo area that tend to serve niche markets for new or used vinyl or for certain kinds of music, and that is a good think.
But how can it be that a city the size of Buffalo with so many populated communities on both sides of the border around it – a city that has begun prospering again, by the way – can’t support one grand store from the golden age of record buying when a lover of rock, folk, jazz, blues or just about any other kind of music could enter and find just about any artist or song titles that pop into mind?
Like a number of other Record Theatre fans, I have fired off emails to the mayor of Buffalo and others, emphasizing what a void the closing of this store would leave in the heart of the city and asking if there is something they and their economic development groups might do to marry Record Theatre and its passionate staff with new investors. But this is free-enterprise America, after all, and no one can force someone to keep a business open, however rare or cherished its offerings may be, unless they can see some way it is going to make a profit.
Let’s hope a good buyer with a passion of their own for record stores does come along before it is too late.
Is they don’t, then all I can say is how sad I feel for the fabulous Record Theatre staff, people that I and others have come to know by their first names over the years – people like Joe and Andrew and Tony and Jeremy and Ariel and Nikki, and of course, Rocky, who has, in many ways, become the human face of Record Theatre (one of the longest serving and often, on Fridays and Saturdays, the first person who greets you when you walk in the door).
In the three or four times I have visited since the bad news, you have held your heads high and continued serving one and all of us with class, even while knowing that every day more of what’s left on the store’s shelves goes out the door with no investor in the enterprise in sight brings you one day closer to the end of a job I know from the time I’ve spent with you in the store, that you have loved.
Barring some last-minute miracle that keeps you and this great store going, I will miss all of you too!
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