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End of an era: Last Record Theatre location to close its doors

Record Theatre, once a chain of six record stores and the focal point of the Western New York music scene and a mecca for anyone looking for an album – or a cassette a CD or even an 8-track tape long ago – is going out of business.

The news that the flagship Main Street location of the area's longest-serving independent record store would close its doors for good in coming weeks comes three months after the death of its founder Lenny Silver and the closing of its other remaining store in the University Plaza.

After 32 years, Record Theatre's University Plaza store to close

"I hoped this day would never come," Mike Pierce, chief financial officer of parent company Transcontinent Record Sales said on Tuesday. "In my heart of hearts, when we closed the University Plaza store and moved all the stock down here to 1800 Main, I wanted this to work, for the employees, and for Lenny's legacy. And at first, it seemed like we might be able to pull it off. We experienced a 30 percent bump, an increase. We were profitable. But it just wasn't enough of a bump to believe that we could sustain this, going forward. The vinyl resurgence helped, but ultimately, it wasn't enough."

Pierce cited building costs and maintenance, the move toward digital music, and "considerations involving Lenny's estate" as motivating factors in the decision to close the sole remaining store.

Remembering Lenny Silver, music business maverick

Many longtime employees got the news and were let go Monday, and the internet sales side of the business was also shut down.

"Yesterday was not a good day for me," Pierce said. "It was heartbreaking. We had some incredibly dedicated employees who'd given their all and been with us a long time. Brandon (Delmont, head buyer) had been here for 21 years, and Kelly (Mourdant, manager) for 17 years. They gave everything they had."

Joseph Cumbo of Buffalo was one of a few dozen shoppers digging through the bins at 1800 Main St. on Tuesday afternoon. News of the store's impending closing had reached him.

"It's definitely a bummer," he said. "I've shopped at Record Theatre for years. The University Plaza location was my store, but when I closed, I started coming down here."

I asked Cumbo if he came with a specific item to purchase in mind, or if he just stopped in simply to check up on the stock and look for new music.

"I always come to browse," he answered quickly. "You never know what you might find."

Joe Lee of Buffalo was scoping out the store's vast vinyl collection nearby.

"It's totally depressing," he sighed in reference to the closing. "I guess with Spotify and Apple Music doing so well, it was kinda inevitable. But I hate to see it go."

Head buyer Delmont expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in the music retail business at a pivotal time, when the industry was forced to find creative new ways to deal with the relentless forward march of digital music and streaming sites.

"Well, I had the greatest job in the world," he said. "I was the buyer for an indie record store that was on the national stage somewhat. I met the 'movers and the shakers' of the industry and I had their ear. And they listened to me.

"I think I told you before that it was like being a curator for a gallery. And although I always wanted to be a professional drummer, this was actually the way that I ended up making my mark in the music industry."

Joe Igielinski has worked for Record Theatre for 25 years, serving stints at the Hamburg, Lancaster, Williamsville and Buffalo stores during that time.

"We've been knocked before, but we always got back up, and it always seemed like things would work out," Igielinski told me. "It seemed like things were going great down here since we closed the other store. We were way above last year in sales. Vinyl has been doing great for us - in fact, vinyl is what kept us open over the past six years. It accounted for 40% of our sales.

"But once Mr. Silver died, I knew things would be tough. He was so proud of this place, and he loved it so much, it seemed like he would've kept it going forever. There are many factors - digital streaming is definitely one of them - but I really believe that losing Mr. Silver is the biggest factor."

Pierce says that Record Theatre will remain open "for a six-week sale, with all stock marked at 30 percent discount to start with beginning on June 19, and then increasingly discounted by 10 percent discounts incrementally each week," until the still sizable stock is depleted.

"This is the end of an era," Pierce said. "I started working here stuffing bags in 1976. The place was always packed back then. This is not the way any of us wanted it to end. But reality is reality."

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