Salsa Store Survives Gentrification on Puerto Rico Ave.

For 50 years, San Germán Records has spread the word about Puerto Rican culture in South Williamsburg (photo by Joaquín Botero via El Diario).

For almost 50 years, San Germán Records has spread the word about Puerto Rican culture in South Williamsburg. (Photo by Joaquín Botero via El Diario)

Although Radamés Millán, 70, handed down his business to his son Jesse 17 years ago, he is still the one who opens and closes the store every day. San Germán Records sells CDs, musical instruments, T-shirts, key chains and other souvenirs reflecting its founder’s roots, who has spent the last 50 years spreading the word about his Puerto Rican culture.

It is located on Moore Street, half a block away from Graham Avenue – also named Puerto Rico Avenue – in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

In recent years, the changing music industry, new fads and even gentrification have forced the Milláns to adapt, but they have managed to maintain the business’ original essence. “We used to be able to play music loudly for people on the street to hear, but now the white people will call the police on you. This neighborhood used to be 90 percent Puerto Rican, but they have forced us out little by little,” said Millán.

For 17 years Millán has organized the Three Kings Parade, much beloved in the community. “But now the newcomers accuse us of animal abuse because we hire camels. They don’t respect our culture or our traditions.”

He added that back in the ’80s he would not have had time to talk to the press. There were long lines to purchase and order music. And it was not just salsa; in those days, boleros, mountain jíbaro music, Mexican rancheras and romantic ballads were very popular. Millán said that his is one of only five salsa specialty stores still in existence in the very city where salsa was created. The other ones, he says, are located in El Barrio ‒ or Spanish Harlem ‒ another one in the Bronx, and one more in Manhattan.

“Puerto Ricans buy music; it is vital to us. But people nowadays don’t listen to salsa. The salseros grew old and they don’t make new music, and people just go to the computer to find everything,” said Millán. “They don’t record hits like they used to. That Marc Anthony album, for example, ‘Vivir la Vida,’ sounds childish to me.”

His son Jesse, 39, has a more optimistic outlook. “Some salsa is still being recorded, but it is made by independent producers,” he said. “Our clients are over 40 and 50 years old. These are people who still like to have the physical album in their hands.”

San Germán Records sells CDs as well as cassette tapes. They have congas, bongos, guitars and shakers in stock, as well as bags, baseball caps and a wide selection of handmade art they bring in from Puerto Rico. Some of his customers buy items to take home to other parts of the U.S. where Puerto Ricans live. Often the customers are married to people from other countries, and want to have a memento from their homeland.

Certainly, the store’s high season is in June, when the Puerto Rican Day Parade is held. His sales shoot through the roof in those dates.

“But our business is still music,” said the owner.

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