NEW HAVEN — In an inevitable sign of the times, Phil Cutler Wednesday disclosed he soon will close his family’s record store after an amazing 64-year run.
Cutler, 53, who has for decades carried on the business started in 1948 by his grandfather, Nat Cutler, said he based his decision on a combination of factors, including the weak economy and declining sales of compact discs.
But Cutler emphasized: “This is a retirement celebration; it’s not sad. We’re still making money. We’re going out on top.”
He said he will shut his doors June 30, and, starting today, everything in the store will be discounted by 25 percent.
Cutler’s has been a cultural centerpiece of New Haven’s Broadway for generations of teenagers, and their parents, too. The old place has outlasted hundreds of other record stores done in by Internet downloading of music.
Cutler said the intimate neighborhood ambience of his store helped keep it going. “People seem to love to come in and chat: first, second, third generations. And that will be sorely missed.”
There are three record turntables spinning in the front window, often with the store’s live-in cat, Wally, curled up alongside them. Inside, the walls are covered with record albums ranging from Hank Williams, Connie Francis and Glenn Miller to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
There was just one customer in the store Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. Her name was Jenna Park, 19, of Woodbridge, and she was shocked when she was told Cutler’s will close. “This is one of the stores I really like. It gives off a nice, comfortable vibe. I’m so used to seeing this store as part of Broadway.”
Bob Briar, one of the store’s long-serving employees, said he began working there 38 years ago, when he was 17. “I wanted to be in a place I really enjoyed.”
“It’s a sad commentary, what’s happened to the music scene,” Briar added. “It’s not nearly as vibrant as when we grew up. We had the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Zeppelin, Chicago. Now, it’s rather superficial; lightweight pop hits.”
In addition, Briar said, record companies “priced themselves out of the market,” especially when people could download songs at home.
Cutler is so appreciative of Briar and his two other long-serving employees, Mindy Peterman and Kyle Mullins, that he helped arrange for Briar and Peterman (and Mullins, if he accepts the offer) to get hired by Campus Customs, just down the street.
That business, which operates out of the space once occupied by York Square Cinemas, is a retailer and manufacturer of Yale University merchandise. It also has a producion facility behind the store. Cutler himself runs the production operation there, juggling those duties with overseeing the record shop.
Cutler said when he learned of the openings at Campus Customs for his employees, he knew it was a good time to close the family store.
“Those three people mean a lot to me,” he said.
“My grandfather had the foresight to start a store on Broadway in New Haven,” he noted. “It brought us all the fruits we could ask for, emotionally and every other way.”
His grandparents, Nat and Lee, outgrew the original space at 41 Broadway and moved to 33 Broadway in 1953. There were two listening booths for customers to hear records.
Nat and Lee Cutler’s son, Jayson Cutler, took over operations in the early ’60s after their deaths. Promotional visits were made by Brenda Lee, Tom Jones, the Everly Brothers and Tony Bennett.
“People love that store and I loved being there,” Jayson Cutler said over the phone from his home in Branford.
He said he left the store about 20 years ago; he’s now 75. “It’s a piece of New Haven that’s not going to be there. But he’s going out while he’s on top.”
Phil Cutler said this timing is important to him. “I wanted to go out with people having good memories. We could stay another 10 years, but I don’t want to string it along.”
He said the resurgence of interest in vinyl (records) is now what keeps the store profitable. However, in 1999 he downsized, moving to 27 Broadway.
Cutler said he has had a good relationship with his landlord, Yale University. “I’ve been lucky to have them.”
Abigail Rider, director of University Properties, said, “The Cutlers have been the epitome of a fine family-owned business and we’re proud to have them as tenants.”
Phil Cutler, who began working alongside his father at age 13, said above all the job enabled him to meet “terrific” people. “I’m on a first-name basis with New Haven. I’ve got 100,000 brothers and sisters walking around and I’ll always have that. You can’t put a price on it.”