GARFIELD -- Charlie Rigolosi was just 12 years old when he bought his first record, Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine".
It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair for Rigolosi, who, at age 87, still gets a thrill when he digs through a box of new records.
"I love going through them. It's like Christmas for me," said Rigolosi.
But soon, Rigolosi will have to indulge his passion from his home. After nearly 30 years running the Platter World record store on Passaic Street, Rigolosi says he is finally packing up, selling off his stock one record at a time and preparing for a retirement that, in his family's opinion at least, is long overdue.
"I had a long run," said Rigolosi. "It's time for me to go."
As a young man growing up in Garfield, Rigolosi fell in love with the Big Band music popular during that era. He spent his free time going to stage shows in New York City and at Passaic's Central Theatre, a long-gone music venue that hosted some of the top entertainers of the day. Rigolosi was there, he says, the night in 1942 that the popular bandleader Glenn Miller played his last show before he joined the Army, where he is believed to have died in a plane crash over the English Channel.
Rigolosi briefly entertained dreams of becoming a singer himself, studying voice before he married his wife, a fellow singer he met at a talent show in Newark.
But, he said, "When I got married, I got off the cloud. And that was it," said Rigolosi.
Rigolosi worked for 20 years as a chef, all the while steadily amassing an impressive collection of records. In 1975, he says he started a mail-order business selling some of those albums. Then about a year later, he put 2,000 records in his station wagon and drove to a flea market in Secaucus.
He liked talking to the customers so much, he said that, "I never went back to cooking."
Rigolosi hawked his records at flea markets around the state for about a decade before opening his own store in Garfield.
Anyone who has ever been to Rigolosi's store won't soon forget it. The narrow, long space is jam-packed with records. They fill shelves stretching from the floor practically to the ceiling, hang from clothesline and are stacked in seemingly random piles. More fill a cramped back room, and Rigolosi says his basement at home has also been taken over by albums.
There is also a small selection of compact discs and cassettes, but the store is largely given over to Rigolosi's passion for vinyl.
"I just like them. I love handling them," Rigolosi said of his records.
He loves the artwork on the covers and, he says, "The kids tell me the sound is better."
At last count, said his daughter, Gina Pomponio, Rigolosi had amassed somewhere in the neighborhood of 450,000 records -- and even that might be an understatement.
And they run the gamut: swing, jazz, hip-hop, trance, country, comedy, flamenco, Christmas songs -- name it and Rigolosi probably has it.
Rigolosi still buys most of the records he sells. But lately, he says, people have been coming to him with their old LPs and 45s. He welcomes them with open arms: "My store is an orphan asylum for records," he told a visitor on a recent afternoon.
But those days appear to be ending.
"We're not taking any more," Pomponio broke in, a clear note of warning in her voice.
But Rigolosi, seemingly familiar with this argument, pushed back: "Gina, I've been collecting records all my life."
Watching Rigolosi move around his store, talking with customers and occasionally pausing to turn up the volume on a favorite song, he seems the picture of health. But about a year ago, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, for which he will have to receive treatment for the rest of his life, Rigolosi said.
His wife, Betty, wants him to close up shop, he says.
"She wants me home," said Rigolosi.
In addition to his health issues, there are also the vagaries of the music business to consider.
When he started, Rigolosi says a lot of disc jockeys would come in looking for music, but now they tend to just download whatever they need. He still gets producers who wander in looking for beats, and he has benefited from a younger crowd of music lovers in search of a sound they can't find on compact discs or digital music.
Even so, he says, "It's not easy to keep going."
Pomponio and her husband set up a website for Rigolosi a few years ago, where they sell his vast library of records to buyers around the world.
"More brick-and-mortar stores are closing and going online," Pomponio, of Hasbrouck Heights, said. "We're getting international orders, and people from other states that would never come here."
Rigolosi seems resigned to retiring. He plans to use his newfound free time to listen to records he has been putting off, and to become more involved in his church, St. Joseph's in Lodi.
But, he says, he will miss chatting with his customers, especially the younger ones. He was able to impart his wealth of musical knowledge to them, and they in turn were constantly introducing him to new music, he said.
"I have no regrets," said Rigolosi. "Just a lot of fond memories."
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