Centro Musical, the No. 1 Latino music store in the tri-state area, keeps close ties to its surrounding community not only by promoting local artists and catering to Latino music fans and local bands looking for exposure, but also by catering to the needs of the community.
“This store has done a lot for us,” said William Bobe, a Philadelphia native who is often found hanging out at Centro Musical. “It is definitely a pillar to this community.”
Centro Musical has become a historical monument in the Philadelphia Latino community. Once customers walk through the front doors, they are immediately greeted with a smile and treated like family.
People who enter Centro Musical on a Saturday morning are immediately transported into a musical sanctuary where a welcomed chaos ensues. Classic records, hanging boxing gloves, Latin percussion drums, stringed guitars and not-yet-extinct cassette tapes surround the local salsa band being featured on the live radio show.
On Feb. 21, local reggaeton artist and Puerto Rico native Katia Matos was featured on Centro Musical’s local radio show. The show is hosted on radio station La Mega 1310 AM and can be heard every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
“Two years ago, I was here in Centro Musical, and I started rapping in front of [store owner] Wilfredo Gonzalez,” Matos said. “He was the one to push me to do all of this. I never thought I would be able to record a CD.”
Since that day, Gonzalez and his wife have paid for Matos’ tickets and rental cars whenever she has needed to record in Puerto Rico.
“I feel as if they have adopted me as their daughter,” Matos added. “[Gonzalez] has a very big heart.”
Sonora Los Fantasticos, a local salsa band headquartered in Lancaster, Pa., that includes members from Philadelphia, also played live for the radio show that morning. Local residents crowded the store, carrying on heated debates about politics and music. Friends danced to the Latin rhythms of old-school salsa hits performed by the band.
“It’s been a blessing to be able to do this and expand my horizons,” said Darnell Scott, a member of Sonora Los Fantasticos and a West Philadelphia native. “I had always been open to Latin music, and I’ve been playing with the band for two years now.”
The store first took root 48 years ago at the intersection of Sixth Street and Germantown Avenue. Nestor Gonzalez started the business in a shoebox-sized store selling LP records. After retiring, his son, Wilfredo Gonzalez, took over the family business and moved it to 464 W. Lehigh Ave. Today, the store is managed by Gonzelez’s children, Cristina and Ray Gonzalez.
Major salsa, merengue and reggaeton artists have been known to stop by the store unannounced. Before Grammy award-winning salsa artist Marc Anthony became famous, Gonzalez encouraged him to keep trying because he knew he had the talent to make it big someday.
The iconic store also has its own record label called CM Records. CM Records serves as a beacon of hope for local artists who have aspirations of making their own albums.
“There is a lot of good talent out here in Philadelphia. You just don’t hear them,” Cristina said. “We’re here to help them get the promotion they need.”
The workers at Centro Musical have also made it their priorities to lift up the surrounding neighborhood by reaching out to those in need. This past Thanksgiving, the music store collected canned goods in collaboration with the Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations, Inc., also known as Concilio.
“The entire community came out in full force. Restaurants donated food,” Cristina said. “As it turned out, homeless people began to walk in, so we would just feed them right here.”
Cristina’s smile grew as she remembered how one elderly woman with a cane walked all the way from Allegheny Avenue to give a single food can, which made the difference for at least one person that day. A local girl diagnosed with cancer fulfilled her life-long dream of meeting reggaeton superstar Hector El Father inside the walls of Centro Musical.
“Our focus in Centro Musical is not so much to make the money,” Cristina said. “We realize where we come from, and we’re here to help the community in any way we can.”
Marcos Rios can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.