When the Gallery of Sound recently announced that it would be closing its store at the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville, I was both saddened and reflective. I was saddened because I’ve come to know both Joe Nardone Sr. and Joe Nardone Jr. pretty well over the years, and I know how dedicated they are to the record business. I’d done quite a few stories about them, I’d worked with them on a few projects, and in this age of generic superstores and digital downloading, I was pulling for them to weather the iTunes and Walmart storm and survive.
Fortunately, they’ve still got a few more stores in the Gallery of Sound chain, which I hope are around for a long, long time.
Other Gallery of Sound stores have closed in recent years, including locations in Pittston and Dallas. But the closing of the Edwardsville store hit me the hardest. For as long as I can remember, it was my spot to buy records. And even though it had moved within the shopping center a few times, I still felt l like I grew up there. And thus, I became reflective.
I thought of the time, in the fall of 1982, that I went in to buy the new KISS album. It was $8.95, and I can still recall pushing my last nickel across the counter to pay for it. I can still remember the clerk and what she looked like. It’s hard to believe it was nearly 30 years ago.
The store was also a place of discovery. It was a place where you could easily learn more about your favorite artists simply by browsing around. In the early ‘80s, when I was in my early teens, I was just discovering the music of acts such as The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and was delighted to learn that by that time, they each had a great catalog of material. I’d leaf through their albums, taking each one out of the bin to read the songs titles and examine the artwork. I’d check to see what year they were first released, and eventually, I started to buy them all. I built a record collection. Later it was cassettes, and then CDs. The format didn’t matter. The fact was I learned a lot about music in that store.
And I know I’m not alone. Thousands of kids that grew up on the West Side did the same. We even got to know most of the clerks by name, and they knew us. And we were always made to feel welcome. Sometimes, they'd be playing something so good when you went into the store, you'd end up buying it.
At one point when my friends and I were about 16, we would make an entire afternoon out of visiting the record store. We’d save up our money until we had about $25 bucks, then we’d walk over to the shopping center, have lunch at Antonio’s Pizza, and then go buy two or three albums. This was a big deal. Buying more than one album on one day was almost magical, and we’d take our time while browsing through the store and choosing between bands such as The Police and Van Halen. For me, an old Who album was almost always on the agenda. I really didn’t discover the band until its 1982 “Farewell Tour,” but thanks to the Gallery of Sound, I learned all about them pretty fast.
Of course, there was more than just music at the store. Rock posters, pins, t-shirts, videos … it was all there. There was an image to music – a vibe, if you will – that doesn’t exist today. These things also added to the simple fun of a record store and the “Gallery Of Sound” was indeed very well-named. Later, in the '90s, the "midnight sale" became popular for major releases, and it was not uncommon to see a long line of music fans standing outside the store late at night, often talking with one another about their favorite artists. You must admit, there's something pretty cool about that.
My last visit to the Edwardsville Gallery of Sound came just before Christmas. I was looking to add to my collection of classic holiday music and was looking for a few CDs by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Of course, the store had both albums I was looking for and I was not surprised. If I knew at the time it would be my last time there, perhaps I would have the perused the aisles a bit longer.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve downloaded some songs from iTunes and I love my iPod. But I just don’t understand why anyone would rather download a CD instead of just buying it. The cost is about the same, and it’s easy enough to take the music from the CD and add it to your iPod, so why not own the actual product, complete with artwork and liner notes? Why not have the actual recording just in case your hard drive crashes? Should I ever lose my iPod or crash my hard drive, my music collection will remain intact. And that’s because it's mostly on CD.
There’s a new Springsteen album coming out next month. And though I plan to upload it to my iPod, the first thing I’ll need to do is go buy it. Not download it. Go get the record.
Thankfully, right around the corner from my office on Public Square, there’s still a Gallery of Sound.