Wednesday, April 15, 2009



Celebrating The Legacy Of A Long Island Record Store Legend
Story: Ed.

Leading up to Record Store Day on April 18th, IRT will be posting articles written in appreciation of the place that, for many of us here in the office, ranks in the top 3 of our favorite destinations on this planet. This first piece is actually an aggregate of an old New York Times article written by Long Island Press editor-in-chief Robbie Woliver back in 2000 about The Music Arcade, a now-defunct record shop in Westbury, NY that closed down sometime in the early 00's. Actually, it's a profile of one of the store's former owners, Dave Bernstein, who has been a fixture of Long Island record shops for almost thirty years and someone who has seen me, personally, grow up.

I'll never forget the first time I met Dave when he was working at Titus Oaks, the record store from which The Music Arcade sprang. The best record store Long Island has ever seen, the sorely-missed Titus Oaks, which originally opened in Brooklyn by the guy who would go on to start the label that would sign Creed, was my first experience in serious record shopping. Built inside an old burger stand called Wetsons on the corner of Levittown Parkway and Old Country Road on the border of Hicksville and Westbury, Titus was the first record shop I ever went to. My uncle started taking me there when I was about 9. Initially, I liked to go there because they rented out videos for a time and had all the WWF Coliseum Home Videos, but eventually I started joining my uncle in rifling through their record bins.

During my tweens, it was my regular hang-spot during my summer and Christmas vacations at my grandfather’s on LI, predominantly because it was only a short walk from my Aunt Marie’s, who lived not even a mile from the place. Being that this was the late 80s we’re talking about, Titus was the epicenter of my brief but torrid love affair with the cooler end of the hair metal spectrum, having purchased such underrated classics as Blue Murder, Mr. Big’s first album and the amazing self-titled Badlands debut there in the used tape section.

Eventually, I began picking up actual vinyl from there and used CDs, but only after I moved back to Long Island in 1998 and Titus had since changed its name to Music Arcade and moved down the street to a nearby shopping plaza on Old Country Road. They had the greatest dollar record bin I had ever seen. I remember one trip where I scored The Cure’s Disintegration, The Cows’ Daddy Has A Tail and Ringo Starr’s Ringo, all for $3! If I won the Lotto, I would re-open Titus Oaks, internet be damned! It was the best store of its kind, a place that had everything and anything, usually for under $4.99.

Luckily, Dave is now a manager at Mr. Cheapo’s, my other favorite LI record shop, alongside Joe, who also worked at the old Titus Oaks location, and we always wax nostalgic about the old store. I can’t believe that dude’s known me since I was a wee lad. Titus Oaks will forever be remembered as the shop that broke my crate digging cherry. I miss it like an dearly departed relative.

So, in tribute to my man Dave, who also plays Joey Ramone in an amazing Ramones tribute band called Commando, please enjoy this wonderful article, which was written in 2000 and definitely harbors a foreshadowing message about the threat of music downloading when it was in its Napster infancy, especially considering the grave repercussions downloading has inflicted upon brick-and-mortar music retail as we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

And if you are in the Mineola or Commack area, stop in at Mr. Cheapo's and visit this living legend of record retail.

A Man Who Eats, Sleeps and Sells Music
Published: Sunday, October 22, 2000, New York Times

THE recording industry earned $14.6 billion last year, making listening to music one of America's favorite pastimes. But for some people music is more than entertainment -- it is an obsession.

Just ask Dave Bernstein. Or his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Zabe. Mr. Bernstein, who is in his 30's, and Ms. Zabe say the problem with their relationship was not the 12 hours a day he spent clerking in a record store. Rather, she became annoyed when he switched on the CD player as soon as he woke up in the morning, and eventually she moved out.

It is that nonstop devotion to contemporary popular music, from 1970's soul to progressive rock, his favorite, that attracts music fanatics to Mr. Bernstein's used-record store, Music Arcade, in Westbury.

Mr. Bernstein, who lives in Levittown, combines a vast knowledge of how to find cheap used CD's and out-of-print recordings with a kitschy-Vegas-meets-Marilyn-Manson shtick. He will even break into song.

Also a writer of music reviews for the local entertainment bimonthly The Island Ear and the trade magazine Albun Network, Mr. Bernstein typifies the music addict who frequents trade-in stores that sell used CD's and vinyl, collectible recordings, imports and current best sellers.

The shaggy-haired shop owner began as a clerk at Music Arcade 12 years ago, when it was called Titus Oaks. In the summer, word spread that the store was for sale. Many patrons expressed fear they would lose Mr. Bernstein, a storehouse of knowledge. Instead, he and a partner, Alan Lish, bought the store on Aug. 1. They rehired a former employee, Keith Kiernan, who has a following of his own, and this week they are officially celebrating their grand reopening.

While Tower Records might sell 500 Backstreet Boys CD's in one day, Music Arcade, one of several used-record stores on Long Island, sells that many total CD's in a week.

Packed away in a strip mall between a deli and a soon-to-open clothing shop, the 1,800-square-foot CD and record store also sells magazines, fanzines, books, videos, DVD's, posters, calendars and T-shirts.

Like most of his customers, Mr. Bernstein is a collector. ''I miss vinyl, the size of it,'' he said. ''I used to get records and love to look at the artwork and read the lyrics. Now you need a magnifying glass.''

He estimates that 75 percent of his customers, with whom he is on a first-name basis, visit the store several times a week.

One recent evening, 19-year-old Jared Crenshaw dropped by to check out ''new, obscure releases.'' It's a daily routine, and he spends about $20 a week, he said, ''when I have a job.''

''I find stuff here in their discount bin that I can't find for $20 in other stores,'' Mr. Crenshaw said. ''They can get me, in three days, what it would take other stores six months.

''Oh, man, records -- it's my addiction. It's my main form of entertainment. Other people go to restaurants and the movies, and they think I'm crazy because music is everything to me.''

A few minutes later, another regular shopper, Jerry Trupiano, a 55-year-old engineer from East Meadow who calls himself an ''eclectic music collector,'' entered the store. ''Record-buying is a habit I'd like to give up,'' he said. ''It takes up much of my time, but it's a great stress reliever.''

Anthony Cordaro, 33, of Old Bethpage, owns a real estate appraisal company and listens to music all day. Already holding seven CD's, he asked Mr. Bernstein for suggestions on new progressive rock.

Mr. Cordaro, a regular patron who describes himself as obsessive ''big time,'' usually arrives with nothing in mind, and Mr. Bernstein will direct him to something. He spends about $100 each visit and has ''never left without buying something.''

''This store is perfect for people who entertain themselves by buying, collecting and listening to music,'' said Wayne LeBow, another customer whose weakness is reissued classics. ''It's a little store where they talk to you, get to know you, and will search all over to get what you want.''

Mr. LeBow, who has patronized the store for five years, particularly appreciates Music Arcade's personal services, like weekly e-mail that notifies customers of recent used acquisitions.

''Dave has found things for me where he searched to Japan,'' Mr. LeBow said. ''No one else would do that for a customer.''

Once, Mr. LeBow, 47, heard a catchy song on the music system in a supermarket. ''All I knew was that they kept singing 'tears' and it was a woman. I mentioned it and Dave said matter-of-factly, 'Oh, that's ''Cry'' by the Sundays and I have a used copy right here.' ''

Much of the store's business depends on trade-ins. It gets an average of 50 used items a day. A customer brought in a dozen mint-condition records because he had made copies of them. ''It's a wonderful thing, getting a CD burner,'' he said.

One concern for the industry is music-sharing technology like CD burners and Napster, and while Mr. Bernstein said ''it is affecting sales by younger kids who can't afford to buy records,'' his clientele still wants the full packaging a CD offers.

''And there's still something about human interaction when it comes to music,'' he said.

Photos: Dave Bernstein, above center, one of the owners of Music Arcade, a used-record store in Westbury, flanked by the other owners, Alan Lish, left, and Josh Feigelman. Some of the store's offerings, left. (Photographs by Rebecca Cooney for The New York Times)

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