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Bananas music moves; Mazzaro's Italian Market set to cut the cheese

For many St. Petersburg residents, the 22nd Avenue N corridor has long been associated with home improvement and fresh-baked Italian bread on Saturdays. Now it offers another diversion.

Bananas Music, a treasure chest of more than 3 million items, decided to go mainstream — and has moved part of its operation to 2887 22nd Ave. N. Bananas was recently tapped by Rolling Stone as one of the top 25 record stores in the country.

"We love our new location," said Michelle Allen, who along with her husband, Doug, opened the shop in 1977.

"It's very visible. A lot of people didn't realize we were still around, so it's fun that they are discovering that we're still here," she said.

In addition to being more visible, the new store has more than 10,000 square feet — much larger than the 6,500-square-foot shop at its 2226 16th Ave. N location.

The Allens wear the Rolling Stone honor with pride, adding that most of the other stores on the list were in much larger markets, like Chicago and New York.

So how did the couple amass such a large collection?

"We don't discard any technology," said Doug Allen.

"Every time they change a technology, something gets left behind," he said. The new store has tons of space for both CDs and vinyl records. In addition to having vinyl records beneath the CD bins throughout the store, they will also line shelves along the storefront.

There's also a bargain basement of sorts that includes 12-inch singles, thousands and thousands of vinyl and budget records — most marked for a dollar or less.

The store is stocked with rare finds in just about every genre.

I experienced that firsthand Thursday afternoon. While waiting to interview the owner, I stumbled upon a copy of The Legendary Satchmo by jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

The photo on the CD cover was strikingly similar to a 1957 St. Petersburg Times photograph from a concert at the Manhattan Casino. The CD was made in the Czech Republic and distributed by a small outfit in London. Turns out it is a Times photograph. We're still sorting out the particulars.

The new space allows more room to display the store's memorabilia collection as well. The upper shelves are lined with old Victrolas and vintage radios.

"We have 100 vintage radios, Victrolas, Elvis dolls and old pictures of St. Petersburg — including a picture of the first McDonald's," said Michelle Allen.

"It took me 12 years to fill it (the old store), so you can imagine how long it will take to move" to the new location, said Allen, who started the move back in September.

"The rare stuff will still be over in the warehouse on 16th Avenue," he said. The warehouse is all vinyl, a whopping 3 million pieces.

"Half of our business is mail order and the other half is walk-in, so we saw the location on 22nd North in September and decided it was time to go back in a mainstream location," he said.

The store is open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• • •

Meanwhile, workers at nearby Mazzaro's Italian Market, at 2909 22nd Ave. N, are preparing for the onslaught of patrons who will gather for the annual Christmas provolone cutting.

Locals familiar with the six-year tradition affectionately call it the cutting of the Christmas cheese.

"The cutting will commence at 9 a.m. Friday," said Brent Valentine, known as the cheese guy in the wine and cheese room at Mazzaro's.

What exactly is the Christmas cheese? Well, currently hanging behind the counter in the wine and cheese room are two torpedoes of provolone that weigh 250 pounds each. The Auricchio provolone comes from Cremona, Italy.

"We'll sell it all by Christmas," said Valentine, adding that a year ago the market sold 750 pounds.

A much larger hunk of cheese sits just outside the wine and cheese room at the market. It's a whopping 1,100 pound log that will be cut during next year's event.

A note attached to the crate touts that it took 1,100 pounds of milk to produce, seven men and several hundred feet of rope to tie.

Sandra J. Gadsden in an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

Bananas music moves; Mazzaro's Italian Market set to cut the cheese 12/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 4:50pm]

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