Written by Dave Gil de Rubio, firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday, 19 December 2013 10:02
Everyone over the age of 25 remembers when going to a record store to buy music was a semi-regular ritual. Now, that’s a quaint notion as purchasable recordings aren’t much more than anonymous sound files. And while brick-and-mortar behemoths like Tower Records and Record World have fallen by the wayside, Mr. Cheapo continues to persevere and flourish going into its third decade.
Around the corner from the Mineola Diner where Roslyn Road meets Jericho Turnpike sits one of two Mr. Cheapo locations, (the other is in Commack). It has become a mainstay of not only Mineola, but also vinyl fanatics from around Long Island and all five boroughs.
Upon venturing through the front door, senses are gently tweaked —a mix of incense and the scent of worn album sleeves tickle your nose as music ranging from Big Star to random Beatles beckons.
All this amid a visual blend of rock posters, rows of CDs and vinyl and numerous CD, video and DVD packages line the shelves behind the elevated register area and the shelves that sit around a foot below the ceiling.
It’s like stepping into a music-themed time machine (or, for the younger set, walking into a scene from the John Cusack film High Fidelity).
Customers in a steady stream come and go, often kibbitzing with store employees Dave and Joe, refugees from another now-defunct indie record store outlet, Titus Oaks.
And while founder/owner Stu Goldberg is grateful for the continued success of this retail anomaly, the fact that he continues to serve a hungry customer base in this day and age mystifies even him.
“We should be out of business. I personally love my iPod and my phone. I listen to Pandora myself. We’re selling to the people that like the novelty. We’re selling to the people that like to touch and feel, and like something to look at. That’s what it’s all about. If you just want music, just get it on your phone. It’s as simple as that. I just kept selling things cheap,” Goldberg explained. “Fifteen years ago, I was thinking about getting rid of records. We were actually tightening up the store and pushing records back and back. Now, all of a sudden, it’s the opposite, and it’s pushing back up again. It’s amazing. I just can’t understand it. Now, our success as a brick-and-mortar store comes down to the fact that there is no competition. You’ve got the Internet.”
Born in Brighton Beach and raised in Rockaway Beach, the self-described Brooklyn/Queens guy was the “typical hippie kid. I was anti-war and I used to go to protest marches.” And while he grew up on Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, it was exposure to the Mothers of Inventions 1966 debut Freak Out! that stoked a passion for music that eventually found him haunting garage sales and purchasing boatloads of vinyl.
It was while working on a route for Brach’s Candy that Goldberg and an elementary school friend agreed to follow up on a high school dream and open a record store back in 1982.
After approaching a lawyer about incorporating with $6,000 between them for startup money, the first Mr. Cheapo was opened in Flushing on Main Street right up the road from Queens College. Goldberg bought his partner out after six months, and within three years, opened his Mineola location.
Losing his Flushing lease three years later led to the New York City native moving his first store out to Commack, where he wound up settling in and calling it home for the past 27 years.
Over time, Goldberg has seen plenty. The Internet exploded, and in the process decimated independent and major music retailers in the past decade.
He’s seen his share of an interesting array of customers whose ranks include one devotee who came by daily to purchase one record in every visit for 20 years straight.
“We have a list of characters that boggles your mind. That film High Fidelity just scratched the surface with what we have here,” he confessed.
But one of the biggest surprises Goldberg has had is how vinyl has not only bounced back, but also the ripple effect it’s had on the younger set.
“I am finding something that I’ve never seen—young girls buying record players. I had a mother today in Commack buying records for her 13-year-old daughter who got a record player for her birthday. We didn’t have that 25 years ago. Back then, girls would buy cassettes and then they’d buy CDs; they didn’t buy records,” he recalled. “It’s a small percentage, but it’s enough that I noticed it. We see them during school vacations standing in front of the record bins shopping for records. They’re buying everything from Adele to Led Zeppelin. And they’re buying vinyl.”
With LPs making up a surprising 40 percent of his revenue between his stores, and what gets sold on eBay, rounded out by 50 percent CD sales, and the remainder a mix of DVDs, posters, video games, cassettes and other music-related paraphernalia, Goldberg reckons his longevity can be attributed to a combination of perseverance and blissful ignorance.
“I’ve always said to people that one of the reasons why I’m so successful is that I wasn’t smart enough to know any better,” he said with a smile. “If you were to analyze the things that I was doing in the very beginning, a rational person would have said this was no good. But it worked.”
Mr. Cheapo’s website is www.mrcheapocds.com, and the phone numbers are 516-742-7670 (Mineola) and 631-543-8686 (Commack).