WILKES-BARRE — Walking into Musical Energi for the first time can be a bit intimidating, according to owner Jay Notartomaso.
But you don’t need to take his word for it.
Visiting the record store, at 24 S. Main St. in Wilkes-Barre, might seem overwhelming at first, considering what feels like miles of music stacked on shelves. But Notartomaso said he and his employees do their best to make the store as user-friendly as possible.
“We’re pretty good at organizing,” he said.
The 56-year-old Clarks Summit native, who now lives in West Wyoming, said record collecting has always been one of his passions. He noted that he can be seen playing with a record player in his baby pictures.
Notartomaso opened Musical Energi in 1986 as a kiosk in the Wyoming Valley Mall before moving to a second location, at 57 N. Main St. in Wilkes-Barre. That site is now the 570 Tattooing Co.
“But we outgrew both of those locations,” Notartomaso said. “And it’s great. I love being in downtown Wilkes-Barre.”
It’s been four years since he moved into the larger space, and it’s easy to see why a larger location was necessary, given the thousands of new and used records, CDs, DVDs and record players that fill the space.
But Notartomaso said it wasn’t always like this. With the advent of CDs and digital music platforms, many record stores throughout the nation shut their doors. Notartomaso said there was a period where he considered dropping vinyl from his store and shifting only to CDs.
As years went by, though, vinyl became a niche product, and buyers kept coming, especially when the store began selling to collectors worldwide via the internet.
Notartomaso said customers can find over 70,000 items on his website, musicalenergi.com. That’s just a “drop in the bucket” compared to what’s inside the store, as Notartomaso doesn’t bother to add some of the most frequently purchased records to the website. Instead, online customers can expect to find “oddities” and more obscure items.
“There are always people who want a physical product and not just a dot on a hard drive,” Notartomaso said.
He said he owes some of his success to the proximity to Wilkes University and King’s College. He said that because college kids who weren’t alive during the height of vinyl sales are enjoying records, it shows there’s more to vinyl than longing for the past.
“For kids to get into vinyl, it’s not just nostalgia,” he said. “They enjoy the activity of it. They like taking the record out of the sleeve, sitting in front of the record, reading the liner notes, and having to flip the record over when it’s done. Records are less passive.”
Notartomaso said anyone who is interested in getting into record collecting should just jump in.
“Enjoy the activity of it,” he said. “People who want to get into it should just buy the music they like and not be afraid to look into other genres, and don’t worry about trying to buy things just for collecting’s sake.”
With genres from hip-hop to punk and jazz to funk, Notartomaso made it clear Musical Energi isn’t the kind of store to just pick up “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Thriller.”
In addition to selling records, the store offers record players and gives free advice on the best player for you. Notartomaso also offers record-player repair.
Musical Energi is open seven days a week, and if Notartomaso has his way, it’ll be like that for some time to come.
“I jumped into this business totally blind,” he said. “I wanted it, and nothing was gonna stop me.”
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan