[JPL] Beneath the Roar of Times Square, an Old, Familiar Rhythm Returns

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Thu Dec 20 07:36:14 EST 2007


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December 19, 2007
ABOUT NEW YORK
Beneath the Roar of Times Square, an Old, Familiar Rhythm Returns

By JIM DWYER
All of a sudden, on his way to Brooklyn one recent evening, Victor Miranda
decided to change trains at 42nd Street, instead of 14th.

As he walked from the No. 1 train toward the R train, along one of the
busiest passages on earth, he glanced at a store. A brand-new place. Then he
stopped short. No, it wasn¹t new at all.

Latin music spilled from loudspeakers; sales posters, shouting in bold type
and exclamation points, lined a row of windows; from the store¹s doorway, a
wedge of light fell into the passageway.

Above it all was a sign: ³Record Mart.²

For a moment, it seemed to Victor Miranda that he had switched decades, not
trains.

Record Mart, a stubborn, civilized nook of Latin and jazz music that endured
and thrived in the wilderness of the Times Square subway station,
disappeared eight years ago. The store had opened in 1961. In 1999, the
station was due for renovation, and Record Mart stood in the way. An absence
of eight years in New York can erase any traces of a place.

But here it was again, December 2007.

³You¹re kidding me,² Mr. Miranda said, a smile spreading across his face. ³I
first was in here beginning in the late 1970s. I left a lot of paychecks in
here.²

He stepped inside to explore.

Jesse Moskowitz, who opened the store 46 years ago and reopened a few weeks
ago about 75 feet away from the original spot, said people like Mr. Miranda
were walking in all day. ³We always intended to come back,² he said. ³We
even signed a lease before we closed.²

Well, yes, but. In the meantime, artists began to deliver music over the
ganglia of broadband. Not even sprawling franchises like Tower Records
survived when the customers could buy any song in the world by clicking a
few keys.

As a hedge, Mr. Moskowitz ‹ in partnership with his son, Lou, and Morris
Missry ‹ stocked the shop heavily with electronics gear, even as he
persuaded the store¹s renowned buyer, Harry Sepulveda, to return three days
a week.

But it is the Latin music ‹ CDs, LPs, even cassettes ‹ that has been flying
out the door. ³We¹ve had to reorder three times from some of the labels,²
Mr. Moskowitz said.

Commuters streamed past. In the shop, people who, a few minutes earlier, had
been part of that rush now stood in a near-trance, flipping over the albums,
the songs links in a chain that was able to haul memories out of deepest
storage.

The old LP records are displayed alongside the new G.P.S. gadgetry, salsa
music cut into vinyl grooves and satellite waves captured from the skies. In
the music bin, many of the customers could hear their youth once more.

Through his early 20s, Mr. Miranda, working as a messenger and a building
porter, had stopped into the old shop. ³I would come for LPs, cassettes, the
eight-track tapes,² he said. ³I had a wide range of taste ‹ the classic
sounds, Frank Sinatra, Tito Puente. One record I remember was ŒJoe Cuba
Presents the Velvet Voice of Jimmy Sabater.¹ He¹s a crooner.²

Now 51, Mr. Miranda had picked up a CD of new age songs. ³It¹s tranquillity
music,² he said.

Not every customer was quite that sentimental. Angel Rodriguez, 52, of Union
City, N.J., first shopped at the Mart in 1989, when he was working as a
hotel chef. ³They had a lot of cassettes you couldn¹t find anywhere else,²
Mr. Rodriguez said. ³Nobody buys cassettes anymore.²

Now, he runs an online music business of his own, and somehow was able to
get onto the Internet with a mobile phone ‹ even undergound and inside
Record Mart ‹ to check demand for some titles.

³People will pay good money for CDs of old stuff,² Mr. Rodriguez said. ³In
Europe, some people will pay $30 for a CD. The euro is very strong now.²

He bought 18 CDs and one cassette from a clearance pile, at $1.99 each. He
clicked on his little gadget. ³Someone will pay $18 for this one,² he said,
holding up an album in a genre quite a distance from salsa: ³Ancient Music
for the Irish Harp,² performed by Derek Bell, the harpist for the
Chieftains.

Mr. Moskowitz, 74, shrugged. ³We¹re a work in progress,² he said. ³Right
now, we¹re almost all Spanish music. Next we¹re going to bring in jazz.²

Another old customer called out a greeting. ³You know,² Mr. Moskowitz said,
³I feel this is what it must be like to be resurrected after you¹ve died.²

E-mail: dwyer at nytimes.com


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