Everyone loves a good milestone celebration. We hold surprise parties. We shower the honored guest with gifts, well-wishes and toasts to a healthy and prosperous future. This weekend, the honoree isn’t a living, breathing person, but a local institution that’s hitting the big 5-0 in style.
Merle’s Record Rack was started in New Haven in 1962 by Merle Shaw. The store sat in downtown New Haven on Chapel Street, a landmark in the music biz for the Elm City. The store moved around, opened franchise locations and expanded its business and services over the years. But these days, one location remains. The store now calls Racebrook Road in Orange “home,” and on Sat., Aug. 11, they need us to help them celebrate 50 years of music, community and friendship.
Owner/president Michael Papa, who bought Merle’s in 1984, takes great pride in his store, which he calls “unique and eclectic.” Merle’s moved to Post Road in Orange nearly a decade ago. Almost four years ago, the store moved across Racebrook Road to its current location. “The music business has changed a little through the years, and we’ve managed to do well throughout the industry changes,” Papa says. Merle’s has expanded its offerings over the years to include transfer/digitizing services (cassette or vinyl to CD, VHS to DVD, etc.), tube amps and receivers, and the largest vinyl collection in the state, in addition to countless CDs, posters, and other music-related merch. “If you want a Jimi Hendrix coffee mug or a Beatles tapestry, we have it,” he says.
But vinyl and tube amps are as much about nostalgia as the posters and wall hangings. “The sound fidelity and sound warmth is what people are searching for,” Papa says. When you’d play a record or an instrument back in the day, it sounded present and real. “That’s why there’s such an uptick in vinyl,” he says. “We’re for the music lover and the music collector.”
On Saturday, Aug. 11, Merle’s gears up to celebrate not only the store’s own success, but the Connecticut community of music fans that has made it possible. The store opens at 10 a.m. for its anniversary celebration one-day sale. All in-store audio or video transfers are 50 percent off, up to $100. Make a purchase of $25 and you’ll receive $10 off. Make a purchase of $40 and you’ll walk away with a free T-shirt. Markdown CDs start at just $1.99.
From noon to 7 p.m., live bands take the stage inside the store: Johnny Tripps Experience, Native Mode, Andrew Harris, Mark Rosenberg, Maxx Explosion and Rum Runners. “We’re excited to have bands,” says Papa. “We’re touching base more with smaller local bands,” says Papa, adding that bands have started using Merle’s as a backdrop for album artwork and promotional photos. “We’ve never done that before,” he says.
After 7 p.m., former Merle’s employees from the last half-century will convene at the store, wrapping up a full day of memories, some from years past and others fresh in our minds. Come down to Merle’s Record Rack and reminisce about the good old days, get your old hi-fi equipment fixed, or get your kids started on a path of respectable music tastes.