Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week: The last of South Florida's home-grown record-store chains comes to the end of its line.
South Florida's roster of physical record stores has been dealt another stunning blow with the sudden news this holiday season that Spec's, an institution for nearly 65 years, is closing its doors.
Once part of a family dynasty founded by the late Martin Spector, its original flagship store, located across from the University of Miami, was the linchpin for a chain of 49 stores. The trio of so-called "super stores" once spanned all across Florida and even dipped into Puerto Rico before competition took its toll and made it one of Miami's last music and movie stores standing. Now, like other chains before -- Tower, Virgin, Q, Peaches, and Blockbuster -- it too will finally fall victim to the twin scourges of internet shopping.
At its peak, Spec's was the model of a family enterprise turned multimillion dollar success. It was even recognized by Forbe's Magazine as one of the country's top 200 best-run small businesses.
Hurricane Andrew destroyed many of the stores, and increasing competition from national chains that intruded into South Florida -- Blockbuster and Musicland among them -- all had an effect, but rather than backing down, the Spector family expanded the number of stores and redesigned existing locations. This resulted in flashy new interiors, listening posts, and larger spaces devoted to the burgeoning Latin music market.
Still, by the mid-'90s, declining sales forced a sale to the Camelot Music Group, which was then acquired by TransWorld Entertainment. The company's retail subsidiary, F.Y.E., took over the remaining stores, but the Spec's banner still flew over that venerable Coral Gables locale, a reminder of how a home-grown business could soar even in the wacky world of the record biz.
Indeed, Spec's was unique, an unlikely combination of corporate expanse and independent spirit. Although by the late '80s and early '90s, it stood mainly as the symbol of staunch resistance to the rise of the competition that grew up around it. Old Man Spector was angry and defiant when the store (at which I once worked), Viscount Records -- located just a couple of blocks up South Dixie Highway -- made a play for his turf in the early '70s. He would be a constant presence, stopping in regularly to see what tact they were taking in the latest local saga of the record wars. He grew even more outraged when a chain of used record shops, CD Solution (later CD Warehouse), grew so bold as to open an outlet a mere two doors down from his, a sign of such unrepentant insurgence that the old man allegedly punched its manager one day in a fit of anger and frustration. I worked at that Spec's there myself, and the contemptuous attitude exhibited by one of Mr. Spector's sons made it obvious it would never be the right environment for me.
Still, the store holds a bounty of wonderful memories for the tens of thousands of South Florida residents and University of Miami students who would flock there on a regular basis to riffle through its bins in search of the latest releases, memorabilia, and, later, a choice trade-in selection. Many an entry in my record collection owes its origins to a Spec's sale. In fact, one of the great moments in Miami music history was marked when the Bee Gees played an acoustic in-store concert at the same South Miami location. It was one of the most amazing showcases for these hometown heroes, one that packed the store and left its onlookers in awe.
To be sure, South Florida still has its indie stores, all resilient enough to survive where their corporate peers could not. Radio-Active, Sweat, and Uncle Sam's all seem to be going strong with no signs of falling off the cliff, fiscal or otherwise. However, the demise of a store like Spec's, which has been such a strong source of musical fulfilment in South Florida, is indeed cause for remorse.
So go now, before it's too late, and take advantage of the discounts on remaining inventory. And while you're at it, give a thought to the passing of an era, the likes of which we'll never see again. Sad, indeed.