The block that Lenny built - The Buffalo News

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The block that Lenny built

It's not particularly distinguished-looking, if we're telling the truth.

If you were visiting Buffalo from some other burgh, you'd probably blow right through it on your way to more welcoming environs. It's just concrete, really, and some scattered trees, the edge of a cemetery at the block's northernmost end, a few storefronts, some of them now empty, an abandoned nightclub at its southernmost cut-off, some cracked sidewalks largely bereft of foot-traffic and seemingly denied admission to the city's supposed renaissance.

Not much to brag about, particularly now that Record Theatre, the 25,000 square-foot record store owned and operated by the late Lenny Silver that was formerly one's primary reason for visiting this block of Main Street, now stands empty and abandoned, a nose-thumbing reminder of a time that once was.

Ah, but this very block is alive with memories for so many of us, for Record Theatre made it a mandatory destination. We hung out there, we sought out our favored releases there, we discovered new music that would stay with us throughout our lives there, we sold our own bands' records, tapes and CDs on consignment there, and - if we worked there -- we took our smoke breaks, ate our sandwiches from Dagwood's and Fera's subs, and walked north on payday to cash our paychecks on this very block that will now, by official Buffalo decree, be most fittingly known as "Leonard 'Lenny' Silver Way."

Portion of Main Street to be renamed for Record Theatre founder

Lynn Tomkins, a friend of Lenny Silver, and Gary Silver, nephew of Lenny Silver, stand with a portrait of Lenny Silver at the block that now bears the Record Theatre founder's name. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Some 20-plus years back, I walked this block daily. The building at 1800 Main St. housed the largest of the Record Theatre stores, and also allotted room for the Transcontinent Warehouse, where shipments of records, tapes and CDs were received, unloaded, and allocated to RT's ancillary storefronts.

I - a transplant to Buffalo, a graduate student, yes, but mostly just "a guy in a band struggling to make it" – worked there alongside a troop of mostly young men and women meeting a similar description. None of us were getting rich, but we felt like we were right at the hub of the music scene, and we were young enough to believe that this sense of being where we belonged was worth more than money. Maybe it was.

Lenny Silver was lord and master of all of this. It was his passion that launched Record Theatre, his vision that created the spin-off record label Amherst Records, and his persistence that kept RT going long after the corporate big-box stores and the preponderance of digital streaming and "free" music had sounded the death knell for the independent record store.

Silver gave many of us jobs, but more significantly, he "brought national and international attention to Buffalo as a music city," in the words of Council President Darius Pridgen.

Remembering Lenny Silver, music business maverick

On Friday morning, a crowd of family members, friends, former employees, and loyal customers gathered beneath cloudy skies in front of the now-closed Record Theatre flagship store, as the new street sign was unveiled, following some brief but impassioned words from Pridgen, Mayor Byron Brown, Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and Silver's longtime friend Lynn Tomkins.

Peoples-Stokes called Silver "a great citizen" and praised his "persistence as a Buffalo businessman"; Pridgen called the dedication of the city block to Silver "a no-brainer," going on to claim that "this should've been done a long time ago, when Lenny was still alive," and calling the dedication "a big street-name for a big man"; Major Brown praised Silver for "putting our city on the musical map," and recalled "buying a lot of music at this very store for many years."

Various former employees and local music industry veterans milled about outside. I overheard two of them chatting.

"I started working for Lenny 50 years ago," one said. "He hired me, then fired me, then rehired me again, several times." His friend laughed. "You've got me beat," he said. "I started working for him 40 years ago. And he fired and rehired me several times, too."

That was Lenny. Fiery, sometimes short-tempered and gruff, but always incredibly passionate about the music business and the city in which he'd built his own music business empire.

Pridgen cut to the heart of the matter during his remarks at the street sign dedication when he praised Silver as "an influencer, who knew that above everything else that it is, music is power."

Lenny wielded that power to great effect over five decades. Next time you're passing through the block of Main St. that now bears his name, slow down, pull over, or take a moment to reflect on a time when the music truly mattered to this city's self-image, and music-men like Lenny Silver were giants who strode these sidewalks with hard-won authority.

Record Theatre belongs to another era now

Email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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