Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Christmas Rowe-Manse

Twenty years ago on the afternoon of December 24th, I plunked a blank tape into my radio-cassette-turntable combo player, which, by the way, I still have and occasionally use. Employing the finest technology of the time, I arbitrarily taped a radio program on WPAT “Easy 93,” and repeated this act several more times during the ensuing thirty-six hours. Beginning on Christmas Eve at noontime and lasting throughout the entire Christmas day, this AM and FM easy-listening radio station in the New York City metropolitan area furnished listeners with—yes—thirty-six of hours of commercial-free Christmas music every year. My intentions were to record this music for posterity. I reasoned that it would be nice to have tapes of this diverse Christmas music selection to play during times other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I sensed, too, that WPAT, its easy-listening format, and annual Christmas presentation just might not be around forever. And, as it turned out, I was right.

The station dubbed this longtime holiday tradition of theirs “The Spirit of Christmas,” and featured mostly instrumental versions of familiar seasonal favorites, and some completely unfamiliar. During these yearly music marathons, a deejay’s voice would periodically intone between tracks, “Our gift to you…thirty-six hours of your favorite holiday sounds on WPAT…Easy 93.” And mere words cannot do justice to the bona fide easiness of Easy 93. The only other occasional, and very brief, interruptions to this Christmas music extravaganza involved the station thanking its very generous sponsors—those who made “The Spirit of Christmas” possible.

Well, with the holiday season officially underway, I thought it high time for me to dust off these twenty-year-old cassette tapes of mine and start listening to them. Yes, I still play tapes but, sadly, a couple of my WPAT “Spirit of Christmas” recordings have self-destructed with the passage of time. Still, when I heard the dulcet tones of a WPAT announcer thanking, among others, Mr. Carmen Maggio of the “Romance Emporium” in Clifton, New Jersey for making the 1991 edition of “The Spirit of Christmas” possible—something I had heard hundreds of times while listening to these tapes—I paused and typed in the man's name in a Google search whim. Foremost, I wondered if the “Romance Emporium” was still in business. I had for a very long time assumed it was an independent  Victoria's Secret kind of place, and was sort of surprised it took me so many years to wonder enough about this business to check it out.

Sadly, the “Romance Emporium” is no more. Foremost, my search unearthed Mr. Maggio’s 2010 obituary and, it seems, I had gotten it wrong. It wasn’t the “Romance Emporium” after all, but the “Rowe-Manse Emporium,” a neat play on words. It also wasn't a Victoria's Secret-like outfit, but a specialty department store. The place fell by the wayside in the early aughts, a casualty of both big-box discount retailers, the Internet, and ever-changing tastes, I suppose. Rowe-Manse Emporium-type stores are pretty hard to come by nowadays, and Christmas shopping is indisputably less interesting and less exciting without them around. Once upon a time these little big retailers exhibited both heart and incredible uniqueness, something that's in short supply in the aisles of Wal-Mart and Target.

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