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Record Theatre belongs to another era now

Ben Siegel

There's a scene in the Joan Rivers documentary wherein she mourns the loss of an old friendship, with a man she says was the last link to her formative years, to an era gone by and never to return.

I feel this way about Record Theatre, where I spent every penny of every dollar I ever earned or received growing up. My allowance went straight to the deep, rectangular store on Main Street and North Forest in Williamsville, with aisles of cabinets and walls of shelves, and a circular front desk that looked like music itself

On Friday nights, we'd stop to rent VHS tapes in the rental store down the hall. That music and movies were available in the same store was so cool, and now appears prophetic to the big box stores that would accelerate its demise. I worked at one of those stores in college; it was cavernous and incomplete. This was quaint and thorough. Employees knew their stuff. They cared that you cared as much as they did. They loved a heartfelt argument.

I never collected baseball cards, much to my brother's frustration, but I did — we did — collect entertainment. We thoroughly examined VHS tape boxes of movies that we were forbidden from renting, looking for clues; "Eddie Murphy: Raw" and the "Justify My Love" video single. Together, we bought CDs to try to convince our mother to buy us something to play it on. It didn't work.

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

I bought lots and lots of concert tickets there, and annoyed workers as I sought updates on upcoming releases. I saved every pink and yellow stamp to save money on future purchases, and insisted on returning on Wednesdays for doubles.

Like some kids did with books, I reveled in the touch of this media, holding in my hands the long cardboard box that contained the "Like a Prayer" CD, hoping to feel her skin and denim through the shrink wrap. My eyes strained from rotating the Prince cassette cover with the hologram. (Everyone blushed on the car ride home as my mom discovered my maturing palette.)

A lone Marvin Gaye LP is the only thing left on a backroom shelf that used to be packed with records. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

It wasn't all modern, though. Good music was for everyone and it was not a new invention. My mom added to her collection of folk and jazz records, and replaced the turntable needle there a few times, probably after I had ruined it. My cast album library grew exponentially, as theirs shrank. If I had managed the strength the save any money at all, I'd earmark it for a boxed set, an assured path to credentialed fandom, if not also a total waste of money.

When the video store closed, we shunned the retailer that replaced it. When the music store closed, I migrated back to the University Plaza, where I vividly remember a basement floor with even more record bins. It was there, as a little boy, that I first saw the fashionable graphic design of Janet Jackson's "Control" album hanging on the wall.

Before I knew what it sounded like, I knew what it would feel like. This was (or felt like) the dawn of a new era of colliding music, art, dance and film. It was visual and sonic at the same time. A complete experience. A rush of blood to my head.

Record Theatre was my internet, my library, my respite and my exercise. It is now of another era. Dust and grooves and all of that. But I want it to know, if it's listening, that I still have my tapes, and I still have my stamps, and I'll never throw them out. Wednesdays will be a little louder from now on.



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