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Another era comes to an end in RI

LukeINSIDE

I appreciate blogging, keeping up with friends on Facebook, being able to watch a Linkin Park video by typing a few words into Google, and many of the other benefits that come with contemporary technology. Still, as Bill Reynolds frequently notes in his Saturday column, we are seeing the steady fade of old Rhode Island. Some of the departures represent institutions, some of them represent broader cultural shifts, and some -- as with the closing in May of Luke's Record Exchange in Pawtucket -- combine both.

I write about Luke's and its proprietor in this week's Phoenix:

Luke T. Renchan was in his element last Saturday, chatting with browsers and nimbly navigating among the vast quantities of vinyl LPs and 45s, compact discs, eight-track recordings, posters, T-shirts, and other musical bric-a-brac filling seemingly every crevice of his store, Luke’s Record Exchange, in Pawtucket. While the scene might seem a bit disheveled to the untrained eye, Renchan says he knows exactly where to find what he’s looking for.
 
For almost 30 years — since 1979 — Luke’s is the place where scores of music enthusiasts have turned to satisfy their longings, particularly for vinyl, which remains his top-seller.
 
But business has steadily dropped since Napster marked the advent of the digital age in music, so Renchan plans to close his store — which he calls the oldest mom and pop record shop in southern New England — on May 5.
 
“I think the big thing the people are going to miss is the personalization,” says Renchan, 54, a talkative and amiable Pawtucket native who plans to continue selling music through eBay and flea markets, and to maintain his active DJ business. The record shop has been in its present location, at 393 Broadway in Pawtucket’s gritty Pleasant View neighborhood, since 1983.
 
During the height of the punk-new wave era (and a year after the NewPaper, precursor to this newspaper, was established), Renchan launched Luke’s with a wing and a prayer — $2000 and his extensive record collection.
 
Things started slowly, but the merchant, a passionate Beatles’ fan, experienced a surge in business after Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon dead in December 1980. A subsequent theft of a rare Beatles’ record — the “butcher” version of Yesterday and Today — brought a wave of helpful publicity. “People said, ‘You staged that,’ ” Renchan recalls. “I’m not smart enough.”
 
A passionate music enthusiast who prefers the music of the ’60s, Renchan seems to have made up in homespun service and personality what he might have lacked in ambition. He opened a second store, briefly, in North Providence and maxed out with eight employees, but never pursued the more ambitious expansion of a venture like Newbury Comics. Even a Web site has been slow in coming, although he’s up with lukesmusic.com.
 
Luke’s was nonetheless successful on its own terms. Snapshots in the store show people lining up outside his store for sales in the heyday of the LP. “You see the Spandex hanging?” asks Renchan. “We had everything.” Not a fan initially of disco or hip-hop, he came to appreciate — and to stock — a wide variety of musical genres.
 
A self-described workaholic, Renchan says part of the reason for closing his shop is to spend more time with his family, including his wife and his five-year-old granddaughter.
 
“Everyone has kept me in business for many years, and I didn’t have the heart to just pull the plug on it,” he says. “I finally put a date on it. I’ve been thinking about closing for three years.” Because of his single-minded devotion to the business, “[For] my family, there was a price.”
 
At one point, the Renchans lived in an apartment over the store — a practice that changed when customers began besieging the accommodating merchant with record requests in the middle of the night. The luminaries who have shopped at Luke’s, he says, include the Ramones and Eminem.

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