It's the end of an era for audiophiles: The Stereo Advantage store on Wehrle Drive in Amherst has closed.
"It's simply time to move on," Tony Ragusa, the store's founder, said in a statement.
Lifetime service warranties on Stereo Advantage purchases will remain in effect. Employees were offered jobs elsewhere in the Advantage Co., the umbrella over nearly 20 other companies that grew out of Stereo Advantage.
The Advantage Co.'s Lifetime Service & Solutions Co. arm has grown and expanded nationally, and the company is turning its focus onto it and its many other ventures that span from clothes and food to finance and recruiting.
As those other companies have thrived, the demand for stereo equipment has declined; and the number of big-box and internet retailers offering electronics has increased.
Jeff Allen of West Seneca started the WNY Vinyl Collective, a 4,000-member Facebook group for record collectors and enthusiasts; and runs Buffalo’s Original Record Pop Culture Expo, which puts together record swaps and other free events in Buffalo.
He started visiting Stereo Advantage in 1994 when he was 17 years old, working nearby at Record Theatre.
“I was a broke music nerd and I didn’t see as many stereos or even turntables at that time. It was all CD players,” Allen said. “Vinyl was on the way out as far as retail stores were concerned.”
Stereo Advantage’s lifetime service policy was a big draw, he said, and there was a lot of high-end equipment for music fans to drool over.
“It’s got to be hard to keep a store open like that. Some of these setups are tens of thousands of dollars, but you do have people that will invest into that type of thing,” Allen said.
Longtime customer Dave Drass from the City of Tonawanda has been visiting Stereo Advantage since its heyday in the 1980s. He started out buying stereo equipment but has more recently been into home theater gear.
Stereo Advantage was “an icon,” Drass said – one it hurts to lose.
“These stores now like Best Buy just aren’t the same. The staff are not very knowledgeable,” he said. “They were a hometown staple.”
In 1978, Stereo Advantage began as a tiny electronics store on Main Street in Williamsville, favored by music fans seeking optimal sound for their speakers and turntables. But over the past four decades, its owner, the Advantage Co., diversified toward a wide array of other services.
In 1989, the company began building home theaters. It put together a "Smart Squad" to do home installations and specialize in smart-home automation. The Smart Squad began installing residential and commercial technology and teaching customers how to use it. In addition to home theaters and automation, it began offering home security, lighting controls and internet network services. It also began offering audio visual solutions for conference rooms, bars and sporting venues, along with other commercial offerings such as video surveillance, video walls and digital signage.
Also in 1989, the Advantage Co. opened Lifetime Service & Solutions, an electronics repair and refurbishing operation. It started doing audio, VCR and tube TV repairs for one retail electronics chain in the Northeast, then branched out nationally to refurbish everything from Apple iPads to Nintendo Wii's. Lifetime Service also provides call center services, tech support, product replacement and electronics recycling.
In 1994, it developed the Walker Center plaza in Williamsville.
In 2011, Lifetime Services added a repair shop in Ontario, Calif., which relocated to Riverside, Calif., in 2018. In 2015, Lifetime Service expanded its facilities at 1955 Wehrle Drive by 20,000 square feet.
The Stereo Advantage store started at 5687 Main St. in Williamsville, then moved to 5195 Main St. in Williamsville where it remained for 25 years before moving to what is now the Advantage Co. headquarters on Wehrle Drive.