In the end, even the almighty Adele and Taylor Swift could not hold back the inevitable.
Spec’s, one of the last great record stores, will close its flagship location in Coral Gables on U.S.1, thus joining once-favored chains like Virgin, Tower and Peaches, locally and abroad, that have withered from Internet shopping.
With the closing, sometime in January after the merchandise is liquidated, 64 years of history becomes memory for countless people who discovered a love of music in the home Martin “Mike” Spector built in 1948 when U.S.1 was but a two-lane road.
The original store, which sold cameras alongside 78-rpm records, was a few blocks south on the highway in South Miami and is now an Einstein’s bagel spot. The present location, opened in 1953 in Coral Gables, lived through the bobby sox era, Beatlemania, disco, punk, hip hop/rap, grunge, electronic dance music and all the format changes including 12-inch vinyl, 45-rpm, reel to reel, 8-track, cassette, compact disc and mp3.
After the first music industry recession in the late 1970s, Spec’s still managed to double in size by breaking through the walls of two restaurants in 1980 on its north side. The original room on the south side of the building would house, first, Spec’s’ VHS movie rentals and sales — Saturday Night at Spec’s! — and, later, one of the most expansive collections of classical music in town.
“It’s the soundtrack of our lives,” said store manager Lennie Rohrbacher, who spent 23 years of his life working at Spec’s, from Clearwater to Coral Gables
At its peak, the Spec’s chain grew to some 80 stores in Florida and Puerto Rico. In 1993, annual sales exceeded $70 million. Spec’s went public in 1985 and, in 1998, the Spectors sold to Camelot Music Group, which was acquired by Trans World Entertainment Corp.
Trans World, which did not return several telephone messages, shrewdly kept the Spec’s name attached to the flagship store as goodwill even though, technically, it operated under the company’s retail subsidiary, F.Y.E. (For Your Entertainment).
But those are the cold, hard business facts.
Spec’s was “not like another Eckerd’s,” a drug store chain that also slipped into oblivion amid changing times, said Rohrbacher. “This was part of the community, part of my life. It’s not another store going under.”
Indeed, Spec’s was, first and foremost, a community gathering spot to share a love of music. In the ‘70s and ‘80s Spec’s resembled a makeshift camp site where people would sleep overnight in the parking lot to get the best shot at concert tickets in a pre-Internet world. Spec’s, a hop-skip from the University of Miami’s music school, served as its own music education outlet thanks to a knowledgeable sales staff.
“The proximity to the UM is prime real estate. Not to have it there will really be different. Even if they didn’t have what I was looking for, the staff was knowledgeable and you were sort of tapping into this knowledge base of people who could turn you on to new music. That’s what I’ll miss about it and the community around the store,” said Margot Winick, an employee at the Coral Gables Spec’s in the mid-1980s when she was a freshman at the UM.