Longwood store is shrine to Latin music

A national landmark, Casa Amadeo bucks the trends

By Sydney Céspedes

Photo by Syndney Cespedes
Miguel Amadeo in his store, Casa Amadeo on Prospect Street.

In mid-February, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and Congressman Jose Serrano sat down with the leaders of Banana Kelly to ask them to lower the rent on a storefront the organization owned.

Thanks to that meeting, instead of paying $2,000 a month, Casa Amadeo, a small store on Prospect Avenue, is now paying about half that.

Why would the borough’s leading politicians intervene on behalf of a single store? Because Casa Amadeo is a monument to Latino music, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and visited by famous performers and recording artists.

Miguel Amadeo, known to many as Mikie, bought Casa Hernandez at 786 Prospect Avenue in 1969 and transformed it into Casa Amadeo. His father, known as Titi Amadeo, was a Puerto Rican composer who passed his talent and passion down to his son.

“It is something you are born with,” Amadeo explains.

Like Amadeo, the store has a musical heritage. As Casa Hernández, it was owned by Victoria Hernández, the sister of the famous Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández. One of New York’s first Latin music stores, it sold vinyl records, along with dresses and a variety of other goods.

Yet in the age of iTunes it would seem a miracle that a mom and pop music store such as Casa Amadeo has survived. It owes its staying power in part to community support.

“We have a tradition; a group of friends meets here every Friday,” says Jorge Quiñones, who has been going to Casa Amadeo for the past 20 years.

Surviving and thriving are two different things, however.

These days the store is not too crowded. Another loyal longtime customer, Juan R. Feliciano, who visits almost every day, blames illegal downloading. “What a shame that piracy has harmed this business,” he says.

The financial burden lifted from the business by the recent rent cut leaves more room for a store that has stayed true to its loyal audience.

You won’t find Daddy Yankee’s latest hits here but you will find such classic performers as the famous Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. Amadeo, 71, is a true Latino music connoisseur. He cannot understand the reggaeton craze.

“How can they dance to that? Can you imagine your grandparents dancing to that?” he asks, his face contorting at the idea. Nostalgia lurks in his eyes as he asks, “How could I have fallen in love with my wife if we had to dance to that music ”

While many customers are of the older generation in search of rare albums, Puerto Ricans who were born and grew up in New York, who recall the music their parents listened to, come to reclaim a piece of their childhood.

“Mi mamá lo cantaba” or “my mother used to sing it” is often the story they tell Amadeo. They hum a tune or recite a snatch of lyrics etched in their memory for him, and he retrieves the long lost song from the depths of his collection.

Amadeo’s expertise and charm have contributed to the survival of his establishment. His customers are not just the local folks from Hunts Point and Longwood; they come from all over, some making the long trek from New Jersey or Long Island.

He has even had requests made from jail, but three years ago he was forced to stop accepting them, when the authorities banned cassettes because they are made with little screws. CD’s have never been allowed.

His admirers extend far beyond the borders of New York City, or even the mainland of the United States. On family visits to Puerto Rico and his home town, Bayamón, Amadeo also visits fellow composers who in turn seek him out when they are in New York. Before his death in 2006, his longtime friend the famous Latin Jazz musician Ray Barretto was a regular visitor.

Amadeo is proud of his customers’ willingness to make the trip to his establishment. “Look, Brooklyn has way more stores than here,” he says with a smile, but customers “hop on the train and travel all that way here.”

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