NEW YORK - A five-foot-tall GoodFellas poster looked down on 55-year-old Domenick Salvatore and the same machines — affectionately named The Three Wise Kings — with which he founded National Recording Supplies in Greenwood Heights 28 years ago.
"We keep them going. It is kind of tough to find parts," he said. "I'm the only one left on the East Coast that's still custom loading audio cassette tapes."
In the 1990s, the Three Wise Kings cranked out 3 million cassettes a year. In 2019, Salvatore manufactured 1 million tapes, and that represented his best year of sales in more than a decade.
"The format is growing in popularity once again," he said.
In the first half of 2020, cassette tape sales more than doubled from the year before. If those numbers hold, it would represent the best year of tape sales since 2003.
"Analog has always been a much warmer, natural sound to the human ear," Salvatore said.
And Salvatore believes a younger generation has finally recognized the superiority of that sound to the tinny notes of digital recordings.
"Justin Bieber just released some of his albums on audio cassette tapes as well," Salvatore said.
The resurgence of the audio cassette has sent those discovering them for the first time in search of electronic relics to play these new, old audio treasures.
"They're actually finding most of the equipment on eBay," Salvatore said.
One of only a few tape manufacturers left in this country, Salvatore credits much of his survival in the new millennium to the domain name he chose back in the '90s: tapes.com.
"We used to co-sponsor the mixtape awards as well," he said.
Tapes — with their ability to record the radio or their owner's voice on top of or in addition to existing tracks — allowed for a level of originality unseen in previous formats.
"You could be more creative and artistic with the mixtape," Salvatore said. "It was your own personal creation."
And tapes last, surviving dropped WalkMans, muddy car floors, and years of storage.
"We found that cassettes have an average lifespan of more than 100 years," Salvatore said.
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By himself — the business' only employee during this pandemic, taking, loading, and packing every order alone — Salvatore, at the helm of the Three Wise Kings, can manufacture 5,000 tapes a day if needed.
"We can make cassettes anywhere from one minute all the way to 96 minutes in length," he said.
And whether the recent spike in the format's popularity represents only a blip in the tape's demise or a more sustainable trend, Salvatore plans to continue producing blank tapes for DJs, bands, recording studios, musicians, book authors, and home audiophiles.
"I'll stick around for as long as I can," he said. "As long as there's a demand for the format, I'm willing to stay here and keep producing it for them."