BERLIN, N.J. — Howard and Nan have long passed away, but their names linger on a sign at one of the oldest businesses at the Berlin Farmers Market.

Hanging outside the store they founded inside the market 65 years ago, the sign still reads, “Howard and Nan’s Record Shop.”

It’s a tribute by the shop’s current owner Joseph DiPietro, who used to work for Philadelphians Howard Horne and Nancy Ferraro.

Had it not been for DiPietro’s dedication, passion for music and his respect for both tradition and the store’s founders, the Record Shop might have disappeared like the small downtown record stores that grappled with regional and national chains and fought to stay open as listeners moved away from vinyl albums and into CDs.

“I just love music and our music was great,” the 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran DiPietro told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill (http://on.cpsj.com/2DwJvDV ), referring to the music of the 1950s and ’60s when he was growing up in Stratford.

He landed a part-time job working for Howard and Nan during high school. A few years later, he left with the U.S. Air Force to work on F-4 Phantom jets in the Vietnam War but returned to the store in 1969 as a manager with the promise he would eventually become an owner.

“I could have done anything, but I love what I do and enjoy the heck out of it,” explained DiPietro, who has worked at the store for 55 years — 35 as its sole owner.

“I want to make the person on the other side of the counter happy. Money is not really my goal.”

Music still spins on records at the front of his shop, where he plays seasonal favorites mixed in with tunes he likes or customer requests.

And DiPietro can spin stories and song lyrics with customers as easily as his records, imparting his extensive knowledge of recording artists and tunes from the Big Band sounds of the 1940s through the rock ‘n’ roll era, the British invasion, hard rock and heavy metal, and beyond.

He relishes educating customers, explaining the nuances of a record player, a record changer, a phonograph and a gramophone.

He sells mostly vintage records; most are longer-playing LP 33s tucked inside album jackets featuring photos of the recording artists or colorful art.

“Today customers come in asking for ‘vinyls’ because that is what they have been programmed to say, but don’t call them vinyl. We called them records because they are recordings — not just vinyl. And LPs are still albums,” he advised, stroking his long beard and wearing a bandanna to hold back his flowing white hair.

A much smaller part of his inventory is the smaller 45s that have only a single song on each side.

“Most people want LPs. I don’t get much call for 45s. It’s mostly jukebox owners who come in for them because young people today aren’t the record collectors we were,” DiPietro said

Besides records, customers can also find 8-track tapes, cassettes, vintage posters and even a DVD section. A musician himself, DiPietro learned accordion as a child but now plays mostly guitar and is teaching himself the ukulele, an instrument he sells along with banjos, mandolins, small accordions and instrument accessories.

The store is a museum-like music shop. Antique radios sit on shelves with photographs of famous artists like Sinatra and the Rat Pack but DiPietro sold his prized Edison phonograph recently when a customer made “an offer I could not refuse.”

Many photos or cut-outs of artists hang on walls or sit on shelves. There’s a black-and-white of a young Elvis Presley driving a Jeep in his Army uniform and others of Tanya Tucker, Elton John, country singer Martina McBride, the Doors and Bob Dylan.

In a glass wall case are never-opened or rare albums, not all of which are for sale. They include a three-album box set from Woodstock, an Eric Clapton album, a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band picture album by the Beatles, and a six-record Elvis Presley gold edition release boasting 76 songs.

“I will never get rid of my ‘Dick Clark 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll’ album or my Wildwood album of all the old bands that used to play down the shore there,” DiPietro said, gesturing toward those items in thee display case.

Customer Bill Tracy met DiPietro in Vietnam 50 years ago thanks to the Courier-Post.

“I was in Vietnam one day in 1967 and saw a guy reading the Courier-Post because it sent complimentary copies to servicemen from South Jersey in Vietnam. That guy was Joe DiPietro,” Tracy said. “He then wrote to the Courier-Post and told them about me so I could start getting the paper, too. It also turned out Joe had worked for one of my cousins who owned a gas station in Stratford. Small world.”

Tracy, who was raised in Runnemede, has compiled a book of photographs taken at the store over a period of years. It’s a Christmas gift to DiPietro and will feature an historical narrative about the shop and music quotations peppered throughout.

“This place here has such history and Joe is such a great and giving guy who attracts a diverse cross-section of customers. I wanted to document that,” Tracy said.

DiPietro also repairs some instruments and tunes the string instruments he sells. Recently, Bob and Mary Jane Baker stopped in looking for printed music for a granddaughter who already plays three instruments.

Instead, the Woolwich couple ended up buying her a fourth instrument.

“We came in looking for music, but we had seen the ukuleles in the window and now we’re walking out with a pink one,” Mary Jane Baker said after DiPietro spent a half hour with the couple talking about music, the granddaughter and the superior quality and tone of Italian strings as replacements for the factory-made ones after they break.

“Ukuleles are in (as an instrument) right now,” he told them, launching into a popular Bob Dylan lyric from ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ he thought appropriate for the couple’s musically accomplished granddaughter.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” he recited.

Longtime customer George Croasdale of Stratford brought niece Lauren Croasdale on a recent visit. Both went first to the LP section, where many of the albums were only $1 each.

“My mom always had a crate of records and I would play the albums and put the pictures from them on the wall,” said the niece.

“Now, I’m collecting records and I love this place because it is a hodgepodge of everything. It’s like being in a candy store. When you find something you like, it’s a priceless treasure!” exclaimed Lauren Croasdale.

She happily left with a Glenn Miller album and several others after marveling at the bargain price of selections that also included albums by the Mamas and the Papas, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and comedian Steve Martin.

Her uncle has been a loyal customer since he was 11.

“My parents would bring us to the mart and we’d get pretzels and browse and often come to the record shop, which carries stuff you don’t see anymore,” said the 65-year-old George Croasdale, who said his record collection was ruined by his brother.

“When I was young it was all about the music and not about appearances,” he said before picking up a Phil Collins CD of hits for his daughter.

Retired U.S. Navy veteran Douglas Hughes, a Woodstown High school graduate who now lives in Virginia, stopped by and bought a trumpet mouthpiece but also talked records.

“I still have records like Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder and B.T. Express. Albums are colorful and tell a story; you would never get rid of them,” he added. “And when I come back (to South Jersey), it’s good to know places like this are still here.”

DiPietro has a favorite musical era — 1970s classic rock — but not a favorite song.

“I can go from Meatloaf to Izzy (former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin) in a day,” he offered.

He minces no words in lamenting the decision of the industry to abandon records in favor of lesser sound quality CDs despite the resurgence of vinyl records that began appealing to the millennial generation around 2009.

“They got people to get rid of their records and phonographs, and it ruined the whole record business.”


Online: http://on.cpsj.com/2DwJvDV


Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/