Roberts Audio Video has adapted to a number of changes in its market over its 78 years in business; now the owner has determined that the best way for the business to thrive is to take it from the New London storefront where it has been all that time.
The business is currently in the midst of a move from its Bank Street location to 737 Broad Street. Rob Grabon, who took over ownership of Roberts Audio Video in June, says he had been looking at the location in recent years as a possible new home for the business and the expiration of a lease on the current property was one factor in the decision to relocate.
“It’s just time to move to our own place that has easy access to parking and is in the center of a shopping district,” he said.
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Grabon said the new location offers these amenities due to its proximity to I-95 and the Crystal Mall. He said that as a former residence converted to office space, it will also allow for showroom space to demonstrate to customers what a particular setup will look like in their house.
“I didn’t even know when I first looked at that location that it was in Waterford,” said Barry Levinson, a former owner of the business. “It was a case of that location was the right location, and it turned out to be Waterford instead of New London.”
Levinson’s father, Robert, first opened the store in 1934. At that time, it was known as The Electric Shop and specialized in small appliances such as toasters. The business transitioned to stereos and television in the 1940s and 1950s. It was located in 90 Bank Street and expanded to the building next door after the business there, a marine chandlery, went out of business.
After running Roberts Audio Video for 38 years, Levinson turned over the reins to his son, Barry. The business ceased its record sales and began to transition to in-home installation, putting in television systems and home theaters. In June, Levinson turned the business over to Grabon, who has worked at Roberts Audio Video since 1989. Levinson has continued to be a stockholder and partner in the business, but plans to retire.
Levinson said over 80 percent of Roberts Audio Video’s business is now in home installation. He said the business was able to weather changes to the audio visual market due to its long involvement in television installation, but that such businesses have increasingly been moving to custom businesses and showrooms. Grabon said that while home installation was once a matter of setting up a stereo system, home entertainment systems now include a number of in-depth custom factors such as integrating streaming music from the Internet and high-definition television systems.
“The industry’s really evolved quite a bit from the early days,” he said.
Levinson said he thought most of the successful retail businesses in downtown New London have had a similar model of relying more on mail order and contract services rather than foot traffic. Grabon also said he thought the business district has shifted from downtown New London to the Crystal Mall area.
“New London’s changed in the past several years,” he said. “It’s becoming a very arts and entertainment district.”
In clearing out its old location, Grabon and Levinson have discovered several pieces of the business’s history, including vintage signs and posters from the 1940s and 1950s. The business is also holding a clearance sale to sell the items which will not be moved to the Waterford location. Levinson joked that the heavier items have the deepest discounts.
“There are a lot of people who are sad to see a business leave downtown, see our location leave downtown,” he said.
However, Levinson said he considers the New London location as a valuable business location and said the building’s owner is looking to attract businesses there. Grabon said customers have also expressed excitement for the growth of the business and its retention in the area.
“We certainly have a lot of history here, but I think it’s going to be a good move for us,” he said.