About six weeks ago, Phil Cutler announced that his family's business for the past 64 years, a record shop on New Haven's main Broadway shopping drag, would be closing. “Retiring” is how he put it—at 64 years, the shop was the appropriate age.
The announcement was greeted with immediate media fanfare. There was front-page coverage in the New Haven Register and the Hartford Courant, a cover story (by me) in the New Haven Advocate, and prominent online features in the New Haven Independent and (again by me) the Daily Nutmeg.
The journalistic excitement faded fairly quickly, but there was six weeks left of shopping to be had for devoted Cutler’s customers. I’m one of them, having stopped in regularly for over 20 years. I’ve bought hundreds of CDs there, hundreds of cassettes, dozens of vinyl LPs, numerous New Haven or Cutler’s T-shirts. Over the years, i traded literally thousands of used CDs there, until it was clear to me that CDs were no longer the dominant format for new music and I might never be able to scrounge up another box full of ones I didn’t need anymore. That revelation came several years ago, so I’m much impressed by how long Cutler’s has lasted in such a diminished marketplace.
The store became about collectibles, vinyl rarities, T-shirts, cool dorm-room knick-knacks and special orders for loyal old customers who still counted on Cutler’s. Long gone were the days when a local record was distinguished by its vast stock and expert specialties. Cutler’s once boasted one of the greatest Classical album selections on the East Coast. There was an entire Cutler’s Classical shop, next door to the main Cutler’s; there was also a Cutler’s II clothing shop at one point. The separate concerns all faded together over time, until ultimately the main store diminished to its final location (moved in agreement with the landlord, University Properties, into the smaller quarters which breathed its last note…
Today. Today was Cutler’s last day. As the weeks went by, entire sections of the shop were either decimated by shoppers or neatly packed up for storage. It suddenly looked very big again. My daughter wondered if she could bring her bicycle inside rather than having to lock it up on the street, and Phil Cutler said “She can ride it around the store now!”
A couple of weeks ago a guy came in and bought out everything that was left of that hallowed classical stock, several hundred disks, asking no more than the final-days forty-percent discount offered to everyone who stopped in.
The posters had been stripped off the walls, the video game unplugged, most of the racks and shelves dismantled.
The final hours of Cutler’s were thus spent combing through the only commodity still left in the place: vinyl records, the very stuff on which the Cutler’s empire was originally built. The last batch of customers—dozens of ‘em, more than customarily graced the store at one time in recent years even when it was bursting with product—were respectful and reflective as they pored through Roger Daltrey solo and Todd Rundgren Utopia albums, a Murray the K early-rock anthology and a mixed bag of country and jazz platters.
It was a quiet, beautiful, romantic end for an important New Haven institution.
Now we’re on our own.