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WorkinCT: Appeal of Merle’s in Orange cuts deeper than music

ORANGE -- The sounds of Merle’s Record Rack in Orange may be what you walk in the door for, but the sights are what leave customers in awe.

“I watch a lot of people walk through the front door and sort of, I need to give them a minute when they come in, just so they can explore the place before I find out what they’re looking for,” said Jeff Chamiec, who is a Merle’s employee.

“That feeling is something that they see on our walls with the ambiance and the nostalgia of early rock and roll posters, original pieces from Woodstock,” said Merle’s owner, Michael Papa.

Papa said that feeling is just one of the things that has kept Merle’s in business for 55 years. It started in New Haven, expanded to ten stores at one point, and now the surviving store is on Racebrook Road in Orange.

“Things have changed throughout the years from the early days of people mostly buying the 45 to today where a lot of people download. However, most of our business and customers still like to have a CD or an LP which has become back in fashion. The sound quality is much better, and people have it in their hands. It feels like they really bought something rather than just a digital download,” said Papa.

Customers like Andrew Esposito agree.

“I came to grab this Woodstock album and then this boxed Pink Floyd set that’s over here. Got pretty much all their great hits,” said Esposito.

The appeal of Merle’s goes beyond the music. The store also specializes in vintage stereo equipment, which believe it or not, is in high demand.

“Lots of times you’ll have people, they inherited it. They don’t know what to do with it. They have to bring it somewhere to get it checked out. It needs a good physical, mechanical, electrical cleaning, and then we can sell them an appropriate CD player or turn table or speakers, whatever they don’t have, and they have a nice vintage sound system,” said Bob Pienkowski, who is not only a Merle’s employee but also a long time customer.

Another specialty at the store is transferring old videos and memories onto new formats.

“The Super 8 tapes, they get so brittle and they’re tough to work with. You can’t put them in the projectors anymore, so you need to get them transferred onto the DVD and Mike takes care,” said customer Mark Rohrig.

“We do a lot of customizing with our transfers, and we’ve had customers cry at our front counter. People bring me in very precious things, and we guard them, and value them, as much as the customers,” said Papa.

The customers are the focus at Merle’s. The store is constantly bringing in new things, but one thing remains constant: bringing people together over music.

“We are like the coffee shop of years gone by where they have things in common and that common thing, the bond that they have, is music,” said Papa.

For more information on Merle’s Record Rack, you can visit their website.