Victoria Hernández & the Music Store
Rafael Hernández has a direct connection to a music store in the Bronx. The story of Casa Amadeo actually begins in East Harlem. In 1919, after Rafael Hernández was discharged from the U.S. military following World War I, Victoria Hernández, and other family members moved to New York City. After working as a seamstress in a factory and teaching embroidery to the daughters of Cuban families, in 1927 Victoria bought a storefront for $500 and opened Almacenes Hernández (a.k.a the Hernández Music Store), in East Harlem (El Barrio) at 1735 Madison Avenue. According to Victoria Hernández, it was the first Puerto Rican-owned music store in New York City, “Yo fuí la primera puertorriqueña que puse un negocio de discos de música.... la única tienda de música puertorriqueña” (Ruth Glasser interview with Victoria , 3/21/89). To accommodate her growing business, Bartolo Alvarez, musician and founder of the Casa Latina music store, remembers, “Victoria moved the store from there because she had a very small store and she had a piano in the back because she was a music teacher. She moved to a bigger store at 1724 Madison Avenue.”
Besides selling records and giving piano lessons Victoria served as a booking agent for many Puerto Rican musicians and served as a liaison between the major record companies and the Latino community—the large companies felt the small business owners would be more in touch with the preferences of their community and therefore better arbiters of what would sell. Unlike the large megastores of today, music stores served many other purposes, other than the selling of records. They were hangouts for musicians and were places where bandleaders could find instrumentalists. Victoria also was involved in the recording and producing of numerous records; in this way she was very much a part of the music scene, and most likely one of the only women playing such a key role in it. According to historian Virgina Sánchez Korrol:
As a business venture, the small music store spread quickly throughout the colonia hispana and came to symbolize the Latin settlements as the candy store had characterized other ethnic immigrant neighborhoods. Emanating from these establishments the rhythms of el Son, la Guaracha, Puerto Rican Plenas and Aguinaldos combined with the romantic Boleros and Danzas to serenade the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods day and night, nurturing a continuation of vital cultural expression rooted in Puerto Rico and Spanish America
(Sánchez Korrol 1993: 80-81).