Gerber Music

I am not qualified to eulogize Bill Gerber, who passed away in May of 2020. I only met Bill once, very briefly, when his family’s former music retail store chain Gerber Music was inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2014. He seemed like a good guy, he was certainly an important guy, and any music fan who grew up in Central New York in the ’60s and ’70s mourns the passing of someone who operated this vital resource that meant so much to so many of us. I can’t offer a proper tribute to Bill Gerber. I can only offer condolences to his family and friends.

can speak glowingly on behalf of Gerber Music.

As a nascent teen record collector in the late ’70s, I was fortunate to have a number of fine record stores and record dealers available to me, from the used wares at the flea market and at Mike’s Sound’s Center in North Syracuse, to new stuff at chains like Camelot Music and Record Theatre, and to both new and used at places like Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights (where my sister lived). I loved ’em all. 

But there was something special about Gerber Music. I don’t know if the fact that Gerber carried musical instruments as well as records, tapes, and rock magazines may have attracted a staff more intrinsically connected to the music beat, or if the Gerber stores were just better-run than your typical shopping mall vinyl paradise. I couldn’t have defined it at the time, and I’m not sure that I can even now. Shopping elsewhere just felt like…shopping, regardless of the rockin’ treasures I scored. For whatever reason, even though I couldn’t play guitar or drums or anything, evenif my immortal soul depended on it, shopping at Gerber felt closer to the music.

I think I was at Gerber’s Northern Lights location a time or two, and I probably visited the Fairmount Fair Gerber. Probably. It was the Shoppingtown Gerber that was my destination whenever I could get there, combining happy searches of Gerber’s cutout bins with my ritual burrowing through dusty stacks of used books in the basement of the Shoppingtown Economy Bookstore. Records and books. Heaven.

The Northern Lights Gerber moved to Cicero’s new Penn-Can Mall when it opened in 1976. It was within walking distance of my house, and I felt like I’d hit the freakin’ lottery. A burger and a chocolate malt at Burger Haus, magazines and pulp paperbacks at one or the other of the two bookstores, and records at Gerber Music. Better than Heaven!

I was promiscuous in my record-buying habits. I can’t reconstruct any real list of the stuff I got from Gerber stores over those years. One of the most important things I got from Gerber was a free tabloid rock rag called Phonograph Record Magazine, introducing me to punk rock and exerting an immediate, pervasive, and prevailing influence on the parameters of my rock ‘n’ roll world. There was the time I went up and down the mall looking for a store that carried Baby Ruth chocolate bars; radio station WOUR-FM was running a promotion with Gerber and the corporate candymeisters, allowing customers with a Baby Ruth candy wrapper to buy Boston‘s debut album for just $2.96 or $3.96 or whatever it was. During that search, I stopped to chat with Sharon, who’d been my friend since childhood. Sharon was working at the movie theater, and I wound up flirting with her co-worker, who seemed to reciprocate (though she declined my request for a date). For a shy and awkward guy like me–no, really!–the request itself was uncharacteristically bold at 16 or 17. Let’s chalk it up to rock ‘n’ roll, and credit Gerber Music with the attitude adjustment.

But like I said, I Iong ago lost track of exactly which records I got at Gerber. The list should include my candy-bar promotion copy of Boston, plus Suzi QuatroIf You Knew Suzi…The Very Best Of The HolliesRumoursAbbey RoadThe Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, a Japanese import of Beatles VIRock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolThe TroggsTom Petty & the Heartbreakers‘ You’re Gonna Get ItBuddy Holly & the Crickets‘ 20 Golden GreatsThe Runaways‘ Waitin’ For The NightThe Raiders’ Greatest Hits Volume IIGreaseCherry Vanilla‘s Bad Girl, and I’m sure scores of others my stubborn memory can’t locate or isolate in the moment.

My main Gerber Music years were tied to the time I was in high school, dovetailing into between-semester visits home during my first two years at college. Though I continued to shop there as a college student, I wasn’t in Syracuse as often by then, and I stayed in my college town of Brockport after snaggin’ my B.A. in 1980. Gerber Music was sold to the Buffalo-based Cavages chain in the ’80s. 

It wasn’t the same.

Gerber, of course, also sold singles, and we haven’t even mentioned any of the 45s I purchased there. We will mention five of them–by ABBAThe ClashThe RamonesThe Jam, and The Flashcubes–in a special Gerber Music edition of 45 Single Sleeve Cavalcade on friday. For now, raise a glass in memory of the great Bill Gerber. Here’s to you, Bill, and here’s to Gerber Music.

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