Jukebox Junkie Turns 10-year Hobby Into A Business

February 17, 1991|By Robert F. Youngblood | Robert F. Youngblood,Staff writer

As bubbles percolate up the side of the jukebox and lights change color lazily, Ed Schroen punches three buttons on the machine. "Remember Otis Redding?" he asks. "Not just 'Dock of the Bay.' I didn't know this one."

A 45-rpm record jolts from a rack and falls on the turntable. Schroen's shop, Memory Lanes Collectibles, fills with the rhythm and blues of "These Arms of Mine."

In the store's windows beckon four jukeboxes, while inside slot machines and video games vie with other jukes for customers' eyes. Jukeboxes are Schroen's first love.

Open two months now, Memory Collectibles, located in The Festival at Bel Air shopping center on Route 24, is Schroen's bid to sell old-time rock 'n' roll Americana to Everyman and create jukebox collectors of us all.

"I've been fooling around with this for 10 years," he says, waving at the collection of memorabilia in his store. "Ten years ago I got into jukeboxes as a hobby. It was a hobby that got out of control. My wife said, 'Give me back my house.'

"I'd always wanted to open a store, but I didn't think jukeboxes alone could do it."

Schroen moved his growing collection of electronic music boxes -- old Wurlitzers and Seeburgs -- to miniwarehouses until he met Tom Shields, whose fancy runs to slot machines.

The two decided to take the plunge and open a store to market their collections. The store opened Dec. 10.

"We've had tremendous response from people. It's like Christmastime all over for them. It's an adult toy store."

Prices for the jukeboxes range between $795 to more than $3,500. Less-expensive models, by and large, are modern knockoffs of the classics of yesteryear.

"People who come through the door, they're looking for one of two things: an antique orentertainment. For entertainment, I suggest they buy a new one," Schroen says.

As a licensed dealer for the line Antique Apparatus, heoffers reproductions of such high-priced collectibles as a 1956 Wurlitzer. The modern version comes available with a compact disc player,which can offer up to 2,000 selections, or will play the traditional 7-inch 45s.

"So far, most of our sales have been of the new machines," Schroen says, "more so than the antiques. If that continues, we'll go with that."

Jukeboxes compete for floor space and customers' attention with the other material Memory Collectibles stocks. In many ways, the store sells mechanical nostalgia as much as any particular product.

In one corner stands an old barbershop chair. "I should have suspenders on for this," Schroen says, as he eases into it. A contemporary sign advertises "The Fabulous 50s" atop the blue neon outline of a '57 Chevy.

The music, the posters on the wall and thehundreds of reissues of record singles in the back ("a hit on each side, only $1.99 each," Schroen says) celebrate the "Happy Days" era. The slot machines hark back even further, to the first days of this century.

There's a legal reason for that: Maryland won't permit thesale of a slot less than 25 years old.

"We could buy and sell slot machines that are newer, but it's against the law," Schroen says. "I'd like to know who sets the age on that. Why 25?"

The antique slot machines aren't cheap. A nickel slot machine with the portrait of Adm. George Dewey, the Spanish-American War hero, lists for $13,000.

"If we could sell them under 25 years old, they could cost less than $1,000," Schroen says. "Then again, if you have an antique slot, you have an investment."

Jukeboxes, though, are the hot movers at Memory Collectibles. Schroen estimates the music machines make up 50 percent of his sales, while slots make up 30 percent; other items complete the remainder.

Vintage models run at least double the price of the modern reproductions, with a '51 Seeburg 100 Select-O-Matic listing for $3,995. Some older machines run about $1,000, but they are from the '60s and '70s.

"You lose animation after the mid-'60s," hesays. "If you can't see the records play, we call that a new jukebox."

True antiques require as many as 100 hours of renovation work. First the wooden shell is sent to a furniture restorer, and the brassand steel are shined. Then the cardboard capacitors disappear in favor of ceramic ones, and all the power tubes are replaced. Finally, the unit is reassembled and a catalog of music loaded.

The final product is as much art as appliance. Examples: A Wurlitzer with dancingfauns and a half-dozen changing lights and a '52 Rock-ola with fluted columns on either side. The songs on the play list range from Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen" to The Platters' "The Great Pretender" to Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa."

With the experience of renovating jukeboxes for sale, Memory Collectibles is considering offering renovation services.

"We were really surprised that 20 percent of the people whocome in here have some kind of a coin-operated machine. And of that 20 percent, about half need repair on their equipment," Schroen says.

"To be honest, we didn't expect that. We are now gearing up to do service in their homes."

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