[JPL] Music heaven: Jammed with hard-to-find Latin CDs, a unique store struggles to survive

Arturo arturo893 at qwest.net
Sun Jul 2 19:36:41 EDT 2006


Music heaven: Jammed with hard-to-find Latin CDs, a unique store struggles
to survive
BY JORDAN LEVIN
jlevin at MiamiHerald.com


'I LOVE WHAT I DO,': And 'I have what no one else has' in stock, says Hinsul
Lazo, who runs Museo del Disco, an independent music store, in Southwest
Miami-Dade.
More photosHinsul Lazo's musical heaven is at 1301 SW 70th Ave., just south
of a trailer park and across from a row of auto repair and body shops.
Through the double glass doors, next to the blinking red Museo del Disco
sign, is rack upon rack of CDs, a browser's dream.

There's music from Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil,
Italy and Spain. There's salsa, jazz, Latin jazz, rock en Español, reggae,
soundtracks, R&B, soca, opera and more.

Instead of Mariah Carey on the listening station, there's the first solo
release from Xiomara, the singer from the hip Cuban funk group Yerba Buena,
singing gorgeous jazz boleros.

''We promote the unpromotable,'' Lazo, 49, says proudly.

In the age of downloading and Internet sales, of music sold as product
alongside diapers at Wal-Mart or dishwashers at Best Buy, Lazo owns an
independent music store.

It's an endangered business. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the number of
independent music retailers like Museo del Disco has dropped by almost a
third in the past decade, from approximately 600 in 1994 to 420 last year.
Their sales during the same period fell from almost 94 million units to 47
million. Even major chain record stores are struggling: The Virgin Mega
Store in South Miami recently closed.

But Lazo soldiers on, catering to the ardent, the knowledgeable and the
curious. Ask attendant Regla Jiménez, daughter of the legendary Generoso
Jiménez, former bandleader for the even more legendary Cuban singer Benny
More, and she'll tell you which of Xiomara's songs are new, which are
classics. Mention an obscure song by Joaquin Sabina, an extraordinary
Spanish singer-songwriter who's almost unknown in the States, and Luis
Granda will dig up the album that contains it.

On the walls where chains like Spec's put displays of the latest rap stars
are posters of people like Juan Manuel Ceruto, currently -- who knew? -- one
of the top songwriters and arrangers in Cuba.

On a recent day, in walks a neatly coiffed woman whom Lazo embraces like a
long-lost sister. ''She comes in all the time, to buy music for her brother
in Panama,'' he explains. Lo and behold, there on her list is Juan Manuel
Ceruto.

Arturo Gomez, a Latin jazz and Cuban music expert who used to work at
community station WDNA-88.9-FM until moving to Denver several years ago, is
back for a visit, picking up two CDs that rapidly turn into a dozen. He and
Lazo hug and gossip about jazz.

''We have great music stores in Denver, but for Cuban, salsa, Latin jazz,
there's no comparison,'' says Gomez.

''You don't come to my store to buy CDs,'' says Lazo. ``You come to buy
music. You want the flavor of the month, go to Best Buy, go anywhere.
There's a huge audience that wants to buy music that doesn't want to buy it
on the Internet or cooped up in their house. They want to go out to a place
that's pretty and organized and well-lit. And here you are.''

''I love what I do,'' Lazo says. ``I have what no one else has.''

That may or may not save him.

Museo del Disco has twice been named Best Latin Music Store by New Times,
but sales are down from last year. Still, Lazo is irrepressible.

One minute he's complaining about how bad business is, the next he's showing
off a dark room where he wants to open a jazz and classical music annex to
house what he says is the biggest selection of jazz CDs in Florida and the
biggest selection of classical and opera CDs in Miami.

''The city needs this -- people need this!'' he says, gesturing
enthusiastically at the space where his expansion would go. ``It's empty,
going to waste. I just don't have the money to invest and get it going.''

He has all this space because once he did have money to invest. In 1992 he
bought the building in Southwest Miami-Dade that houses the store, his
distribution company, HL Distributors, and a Spanish and a Cuban restaurant
run by his father, Pedro Lazo, who brought his wife and only child to Miami
from the island in 1962.

Lazo used to have 45 employees; now he has seven. So the building seems to
go on forever, past a warren of empty offices, through an enormous room with
towering metal racks filled with CDs, the heart of what's left of his
distribution business, selling Latin music to mom-and-pop stores around the
country.

CYBER-UNFRIENDLY

Against the wall are shelves of ancient computers. Lazo is determinedly
off-line. He doesn't know how to send e-mail. The people who work for him
don't know how to build a website or navigate the Internet. He fired the guy
who built his website, www.museodeldisco.com, after Lazo said he found him
doing business on the side on eBay.

The website accounts for 20 percent of his sales. But go there and at the
top of the screen is the store address. You can't listen to music online,
can't research an artist. It doesn't compare to the experience of wandering
down the aisles at Museo del Disco.

Once the world was Lazo's territory. He still has a giant map of the globe
on the wall behind his desk. ''That was my playground,'' he says. ``I had an
account in Norway that bought 50,000 CDs a week. But those days are over.''

Those days began in 1980, when Lazo opened his first store at 2347 NW
Seventh St. with $400 he had saved and $500 borrowed from his father, who
had a clothing factory in Hialeah where Lazo was tired of working.

He tried selling salsa, but soon found that what worked was disco. Within a
year, he had DJs and independent labels coming in for the records they
couldn't get anywhere else. He bought his first warehouse in 1982, at
Northwest 22nd Avenue and Third Street, to house the boxes of records that
were filling up the aisles of the store -- which he closed the following
year to focus on distribution, selling first to individual stores, then to
chains, all over the country.

He kept moving to bigger spaces and hiring more people, peaking in the late
1980s and early 1990s when the music business was exploding as the world
replaced vinyl and cassette tapes with CDs.

AN OMEN

But Lazo saw the end coming in 1995, with rumors that Philips wanted to sell
Polygram Records, and that it was working on a radical new technology --
blank, recordable CDs.

''Why would Philips want to get rid of one of the best catalogs in the
industry?'' Lazo says. ``Bob Marley, U2, they had it all. I thought, Philips
has something up their [sleeve]. They're dumping the catalog 'cause they
know soon no one is going to buy CDs.''

And he was right. Over the next decade, CD sales plummeted, and young people
flocked online to listen and download music.

So Lazo retreated to his roots, opening Museo del Disco in 2001. His idea --
stock a deep selection of Latin music that you can't get anywhere else, with
Cuban music a specialty. He sells Los Van Van and Sylvio Rodriguez and last
month's timba hit, appealing to the continuing flow of Cuban immigrants
hungry for the music they grew up with.

That makes a certain segment of South Florida's exile community see red, but
Lazo, who is vehemently anti-Castro, says his store has nothing to do with
politics and everything to do with good music and good business.

''We have everybody, from the guy who makes fun of Fidel to Sylvio
Rodriguez, capitalists and communists,'' he says. ``It's my roots, and it's
a great culture. But it's not that -- it's good music.''



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