WHEN THE Gallery of Sound recently announced that it would be closing its store at the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville, I was both saddened and reflective.
Saddened because I've come to know both Joe Nardone Sr. and Joe Nardone Jr. pretty well over the years and know how dedicated they are to the record business. I'd written quite a few articles about them, and I'd worked with them on a few projects. In this age of generic superstores and digital downloading, I was pulling for them to weather the iTunes and Walmart storm and survive.
Fortunately, they still have a few more stores in the Gallery of Sound chain, which I hope are around for a long, long time.
Other Gallery of Sound stores had closed in recent years, including locations in Pittston and Dallas. But the closing of the Edwardsville store hit me the hardest. For as long as I can remember, it was my spot to buy records. And even though it had moved within the shopping center a few times, I still felt as if I grew up there. And that prompted my reflection.
I thought of the time, in the fall of 1982, I went in to buy the new KISS album. It was $8.95, and I can still recall pushing my last nickel across the counter to pay for it. I remember the clerk and what she looked like. It's hard to believe it was nearly 30 years ago.
The store also was a place of discovery. It was a place where you could easily learn more about your favorite artists simply by browsing. In the early '80s, as a young teenager, I was just discovering The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, and I was delighted to learn that each had a great catalog of material. I'd leaf through their albums, taking each one out of the bin to read the song titles and examine the artwork. I'd check to see what year they were first released, and eventually, I started to buy them all. I built a record collection. Later it was cassettes, then CDs. The format didn't matter. The fact was I learned a lot about music in that store.
And I know I'm not alone. Thousands of kids who grew up on the West Side did the same. We got to know most of the clerks by name, and we always were welcomed. Sometimes, they'd be playing something so good when you went into the store, you'd end up buying it.
When my friends and I were about 16, we would make an entire afternoon out of visiting the record store. We'd save up our money until we had about $25. Then we'd walk to the shopping center, have lunch at Antonio's Pizza and go buy two or three albums. This was a big deal. We'd take our time choosing between bands such as The Police and Van Halen. For me, an old Who album was almost always on the agenda. I really didn't discover the band until its 1982 "Farewell Tour," but thanks to the Gallery of Sound, I learned all about it pretty fast.
Of course, there was more than music at the store. Rock posters, pins, T-shirts, videos … it had it all. There was an image to music – a vibe, if you will – that doesn't exist today. These things also added to the simple fun of a record store, and the "Gallery Of Sound" was indeed very well-named. In the '90s, the "midnight sale" became popular for major releases, and it was not uncommon to see a long line of music fans outside the store, often talking to each other about their favorite artists. You must admit, there's something pretty cool about that.
My last visit to the Edwardsville Gallery of Sound came just before Christmas. I wanted to add to my collection of classic holiday music and was looking for a few CDs by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Of course, the store had both albums for which I was looking. If I had known it would be my last time there, perhaps I would have perused the aisles a bit longer.
Don't get me wrong. I've downloaded songs from iTunes and I love my iPod. But I don't understand why anyone would rather download a CD instead of just buying it. The cost is about the same, and it's easy enough to take the music from the CD and add it to your iPod, so why not own the actual product, complete with artwork and liner notes? Why not have the actual recording in case your hard drive crashes? Should I ever lose my iPod or crash my hard drive, my music collection will remain intact. And that's because it's mostly on CD.
There's a new Springsteen album coming out next month. And though I plan to upload it to my iPod, the first thing I'll need to do is go buy it. Thankfully, right around the corner from my office on Wilkes-Barre's Public Square, there's still a Gallery of Sound.