Record Theatre Liquidation Begins

Buffalo music giant closing in next few weeks

Mike Baggerman
June 19, 2017 - 3:00 am

WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - After the March 10 passing of Record Theatre owner Leonard Silver, the future was grim for the former Buffalo music behemoth.

Silver, 90, kept the store running even in his later years, but his death presented several challenges. The obvious first challenge was what to do with six stores that operate in a climate where music, and most media, is listened to using your phone or computer. 

The changing landscape of media drastically affected store sales. Most Record Theatre stores closed almost immediately, leaving only the one on 1762 Main Street in Buffalo. The last remaining store manager is Joe Igielinski, who has worked at the store since 1992, and said that he went through the five stages of grief over its closure.

"Now I'm just getting to the acceptance phase," Igielinski said. "I'm hoping something will happen, maybe someone will step in and buy the company. Even if they did, you don't even know if they'd keep you on. I just hope something happens because the place has been here for a while and I don't feel there's many people who don't even know how great this store is."

The birth of the internet and, thusly, downloadable and streaming content, meant the slow end for large-scale record stores. 

When WBEN entered the store on Friday afternoon about a dozen people were there, browsing everything from new releases, the pop/rock section, movies, posters, even toys. It was a steady, revolving-door of customers.

"The sales have been good the last two weeks since we announced (our closure)," Mike Pierce, President of Transcontinental Record Sales, which operates Record Theatre, said inside the Main Street store. "If these sales were continuing there would be no problem, we could have actually stayed open. Sales haven't been that great as far as continuing to make our efforts to do business."

WATCH: A tour of the front of Record Theatre

Another major, but less talked about, reason for closing the store was preserving Silver's legacy. Operators were forced to make a business, rather than an emotional, decision to close the stores to assist with Silver's trust and his estate, part of which was the physical store.

"Silver was the person who kept this thing going," he said. "We have estate issues and trust issues and we had to continue (analyzing) that too. It's all part of everything going on in the music industry, especially Record Theatre."

The owner's death left a void because, as an owner, Pierce said Silver was in the store and monitored everything from payroll to computerization.

"We belong to an organization called SIMS," Pierce said. "It's a coalition of independent music stores and they're having the same issues that we are. It's very interesting to see what they're doing to stay competitive in their own market. Every one of those guys are in the store working. We don't have that luxury here so it's a different model setup. You can make money but it's got to be owner driven."

"(Silver) was a hell of a guy," he added. "A lot of musicians got their start here. They loved working in the music store." 

What may have been considered a beacon of hope for the record stores was the return of vinyl records. Once the primary method of listening to tunes at your own convenience, vinyl "died" in the early 1980's thanks to the emergence of cassette tapes and, later, CD's. In recent years, vinyl made a return. 

"Once vinyl started coming back it got bigger and bigger each year," Igielinski, a vinyl enthusiast himself, said. "That carried us right up to where we are now. I think if it wasn't for vinyl coming back the store probably would have closed 6-to-10 years ago." 

If vinyl records could fade away and make a triumphant return, could record stores do the same? 

"I think to some extent that despite our closing, I think around the country there have been a lot more smaller, independent record shops that are specializing in used records or small, certain types of genres of music," Igielinski said. "As far as these big ones like Record Theatre, I don't think there will be too many of these opening up. Not in the near future, at least."

The liquidation sale of the store begins Monday. For the first week, all items are 30 percent off. Pierce said the store will have that discount for at least a week or two and see how it runs. With an inventory of 700,000 items in the front of the store alone and a conservative estimate of two million items combined between the front and back of the store, there will certainly be no shortage of opportunity to collect one last piece of store memorabilia. 

"If it's starting to simmer down, we'll scale it up to 40 percent," he said. "It could be ten weeks, it could be twelve weeks. It could potentially be three months."

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, on Sunday. 


LISTEN: Mike Pierce & Joe Igielinski from Record Theatre

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