Gurney's Inn
December 13, 2006

Main Street Sound Silenced

It's not only skyrocketing rents. It's not just the changing face of East Hampton Village. To Gary Madison, it's a sign of "the death of an industry." After 30 years on Main Street, Madison is closing his East Hampton branch of Long Island Sound at the end of this year. A Hampton Bays resident, he'll keep his Southampton store on Jobs Lane open for now.

In three decades, Madison has watched the evolution from vinyl LPs to eight track tapes to cassettes to CDs. And then, the Internet and iPods and the technology that offers instant gratification. The ability to download any song any time may have been music to consumers' ears, but it began to toll the death knoll for record stores. Sam Goody has closed 1500 stores, Tower Records has closed 89 stores, Madison pointed out.

Besides the instant accessibility the Internet provides, the advent of big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart also dealt a crushing blow. Madison marveled at big companies who sell a record he gets for $12.99 wholesale for just nine bucks retail. The strategy is known as "loss leaders," meaning the store will offer some items below cost with the hopes that while a shopper is in the store he'll make up the loss with other purchases.

Local factors also influenced Madison's decision. In the last six or seven years his rent has more than doubled. The ambience of Main Street in East Hampton has transformed, in recent years, with Mom and Pop stores like Diamond's and Marley's stationary giving way to high-end haberdasheries like Ralph Lauren Polo and Gucci.

Even attendance at the movies seems to have changed, Madison said. Over the years, Long Island Sound served as a de facto babysitter for the community's youth. When parents dropped their kids off to see a show, "They'd say 'We'll meet you at Long Island Sound,'" Madison said, adding, "I don't think they're going to wait at Gucci."

Beyond serving as a meeting place for kids, LI Sound has also been a favored first job venue. Madison has seen kids patronize the store, get part-time jobs there, then years later, bring their own children in to shop and work. That community continuity is headed toward extinction.

Announcing the closure last week, Madison lamented the cultural changes in how people approach music. No one follows artists like his generation did — watching legends like Van Morrison grow and change, savoring entire albums and finding treasures hidden among the top 40 offerings, discussing the evolution.

"Kids don't listen to music the way we used to," he said. Instead they'll buy a single song to put on the iPod. Additionally, few artists can boast the staying power of megastars like The Stones or The Beatles. "When you have Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton putting music out, what is there to talk about?" he asked.

Madison seemed to question whether consumers today have the same type of love for music that he's harbored all his life. "I got into this because I love music," he said.

For now, the shopkeeper isn't sure what his next enterprise might be. He's keeping the Southampton branch — which he opened in 1972 — open, and will be occupied with the details of closing the East Hampton store. Music lovers will still be able to walk into the Southampton branch, sing an off-key snippet of a tune and have the staff track down the album. Can't do that with iTunes.

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