HOWELL – It was 1996. Artists like NYSNC, Alanis Morrisette, and TLC were in their hey-day, topping the charts with hits that would continue to hold a place in fans’ hearts. Jeff Lega, owner of Howell Township’s famous musical staple, “The Record Store,” recalls that year as the busiest he has ever seen.
“It was just constant,” he said. Lega remembered ordering hundreds of copies of certain artists because they were just flying off the shelves. In particular, he recalled ordering 1,000 copies of Eminem’s first ever album Infinite.
The Record Store even hosted midnight openings for new music drops, to which 50-60 people came out, said Lega.
“It was insanity,” he added.
It is now 2019. And by now, most Howell residents have heard that the town’s musical landmark, The Record Store, will soon be closing its doors.
After 30 years in business, Lega is following his passion for music, which he said he no longer feels in the store.
“It had nothing to do with the sales actually…My heart just hasn’t been here for a long time,” said Lega. “No little business can survive on just one thing.”
The Record Store opened up in 1988 as a small shop in the Lanes Mills Plaza on Route 9, taking up just one space of about 1,000 square feet, said Lega. Over the years, the music store grew to take up three of those spaces, transforming from a record/CD/cassette store to a music and comic shop.
“After ’96 the music business suffered,” said Lega. This is when The Record Store opted to take on comics to boost business in a failing industry. “It was really not my forte.”
Lega brought in a specialist from Comics Plus to help facilitate the transition of The Record Store from music to music and comics.
Since then, The Record Store remained a hit with locals and music enthusiasts, adding comic book fans to their list of customers. However, Lega wasn’t too happy with the new addition to their inventory, calling the comic industry “a gimmick.”
A comic might put out 50 volumes of a story, and then start over again with volume one, said Lega; or maybe they will put out two versions of the same comic to get people to buy both.
“We see a lot of that,” and Lega made it clear that he didn’t believe in it.
For Lega, The Record Store was always about the music. Although he is not a musician himself, Lega is a passionate music enthusiast, with musical tastes ranging from classics like Bruce Springsteen to modern artists such as Greta Van Fleet.
After comics became part of The Record Store’s personality, Lega felt like he was just “going through the motions.”
A recent trip to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made that abundantly clear for him.
The decision to close the store was years in the making, and it was not an easy one either, said Lega. It wasn’t until he felt his love for music renewed with vigor at the sight of the greats at the Hall of Fame that he knew what he had to do.
That trip “made the decision much more clear for me,” he said.
In addition to that, The Record Store’s website notes: “Turning 60 this year he [Lega] felt that given this may be the final chapter in his life, wanted to explore other adventures and opportunities…So he felt it was best to close up shop. Our final day is scheduled for January 31st, 2019. We will continue to have new comic releases up to and including the week of January 23rd, 2019.”
The store will be having major sales until the official closing date of Jan. 31, 2019. After the store closes its doors, Lega will be selling the remaining inventory on EBay.
Lega noted that he did not sell the business and he still owns the name, so “who knows,” he might be back in business sometime in the future.
Upon parting, Lega wanted to leave customers and fans of The Record Store with this: “I am very touched by the strong emotional response to what the store meant and means to every one of you. I was not prepared for the outpouring of emotion, and the crew and I would like to thank each of you who has posted a memory or positive comment on Facebook, or stopped by at the store so far this past week. We appreciate seeing so many familiar faces from our past and present, and hope we get the chance to see more of you soon.”