WILKES-BARRE TWP. — In recent years, the way people consume music has been changing, leading to changes to the way people buy it.
And one local record-store and music-school owner has been working to keep music coming to the homes of the people of the Wyoming Valley.
Joe Nardone Jr., 51, calls the Gallery of Sound “the family business,” a term he uses with what sounded like affection. Started in 1972 by his father, Nardone said the business actually got a boost from the flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes that year.
“He made a deal to get into the Wyoming Valley Mall, and concurrently the flood happened,” Nardone said. “He had a store downtown, too, but downtown was wiped out, and suddenly the mall was the only thing.”
Nardone said the flood changed the shopping dynamics of the area, leaving the downtown area to play catch-up with the mall — and, by extension, the new record store.
Over time, the Gallery of Sound grew under the Nardone family’s watch, expanding to 11 stores at its height.
Nardone said he got involved in “the family business” roughly 30 years ago, back when he was 21. He said that he was actually planning on getting involved in a different facet of the music industry.
“I went to Lehigh University; I was involved in the radio station, and I had some ideas of getting into the other side of the music business,” Nardone said.
With the record industry booming in 1988, Nardone’s plans changed. He instead decided to get involved with the record store.
But that boom didn’t last.
“Back in the 90s, you had acts like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC who would routinely sell 10 million albums,” Nardone said with a hint of wistfulness. “Now, the benchmark of success is one million.”
Nardone said sales began to lower, first with the rise of online music outlets like iTunes and the more questionably legal Napster, then the later advent of subscription-based streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
Different purchasing habits eventually led to a downsizing of Gallery of Sound. Instead of the 11 store chain it once was, extending as far away as Matamoras, there are now just two left: in Wilkes-Barre Township and Dickson City.
But that doesn’t mean the record store hasn’t carved out its own unique niche.
“It’s a change in the business,” Nardone said, explaining the stores’ focus has had to change to still attract customers. “It’s harder to be a full-line record store.”
Instead, Gallery of Sound focuses on being a one-stop shop for a music nerd. In addition to vinyl records and CDs, the store now also sells record players, band T-shirts and other music collectibles.
Nardone notes the way people even think about buying music has changed. Since customers now are able to listen to albums online before they buy them, they’re able to treat the vinyl as a collector’s item instead of the only way they listen to music.
“People don’t buy lousy records anymore,” Nardone said. “They buy it because they want to say to people, ‘This is what I collect; this is what I like.’”
Interestingly, Nardone said this has allowed for a system where artists are able to connect more intimately with their fans, crafting more unique record-buying experiences. Then, the Gallery of Sound tries to get artists into the store to bring in customers.
Nardone said nationally famous acts like All Time Low, a member of the Doors and others, have appeared in the store to play small sets or do signings. There’s also a focus to get nationally recognized local acts like Breaking Benjamin, Title Fight and Tigers Jaw to attract the fans.
“People will come in for those and will say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think you’d have this,’” Nardone said, explaining the value of these events.
But Nardone made it clear that the Gallery of Sound isn’t the only way he’s trying to bring music to the area.
In late 2016, Nardone opened Rockology Music Academy only a few doors down from the Wilkes-Barre Township Gallery of Sound.
The school takes a different approach to music education, Nardone said. Taking inspiration from the 2003 film “School of Rock,” Rockology features a band program, which teaches students how to make music together.
“And they’re not just playing stuff like the Ramones would play in their garage,” Nardone said. “The kids are trying harder stuff. They’re learning things about music they would’ve never learned.”
With five or six instructors, the approximately 50 kids have knowledgeable instructors who can teach them exactly what they want to learn.
“If they want to learn to sing classically, they can do that; if they want to sing like Arianna Grande, they can do that, too,” Nardone said. “Whatever you want, we’ll direct the program toward you.”
Nardone said he’s “very happy” with the progress of the students, and that they’re improving greatly, saying that bands started at the school have played locally as part of the program to great success.
Nardone chalks up the success to the passion of the kids.
“They have to like it … but very few have left,” he said.