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Casa Latina: A Long-Running Music Shop And Community Hub Perseveres In Spanish Harlem

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) –  When it comes to music, Spanish native Vicente Barreiro has a clear favorite.

"Salsa is the best music in the world," he said. "It will make you dance. As soon as you start listening to it, it will make you dance."

Salsa even helped him find his wife; he met Leonor while dancing at a Spanish club in Manhattan.

When Leonor's father needed help at his local store, he hired Vicente. Now, Vicente has been running Casa Latina Music in East Harlem for nearly six decades.

"It's been a long journey but a nice journey," he said.

Leonor helps oversee the collection of records, CDs, and cassettes, which spans all genres of Spanish-language music.

"But mostly, people that come here, they want salsa," she said.

She and Vicente take pride in their rare offerings and collectors' items. They also sell instruments like congas, bongos, and maracas.

But Casa Latina provides more than retail; it's a community hub for performances and gatherings. Visitors share in animated conversation, mostly in Spanish.

"They come here, they tell the stories, and they bring gossip. You know how it is," Vicente said. "Some of them, they stay. They don't want to go. They keep talking."

For Vicente, it's the most meaningful part of the job.

"I love to be with the people here. I've been doing it for 56 years, and it's happy. It's a happy job," he said.

Newcomers often become regulars.

"He treats his customers like gold," Leonor said.

Over the decades, Casa Latina has held fast through transformation. Its Spanish Harlem neighborhood has developed and diversified. The music industry has reorganized.

"Now is not the same. A lot of the big companies, they went digital. And now, this new generation, they download, so they don't care. We're losing the history of this. Little by little, they come and ask me for Willie Colón or Héctor Lavoe or Ray Barretto, and everything disappeared," Vicente said.

Even so, he recognizes the enduring value of his inventory.

"It's not the same, downloading, than getting the real thing," he said.

His customers know the difference.

"They get the real sound."

Casa Latina Music
151 E 116th St #A
New York, NY 10029
(212) 427-6062

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.


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