Feed it a coin and you’ll see — the Wurlitzer still rocks - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Feed it a coin and you’ll see — the Wurlitzer still rocks

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Posted: Friday, June 6, 2003 10:26 am | Updated: 2:20 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The sun is setting on a Friday night in downtown Scottsdale. Parking spots are being filled by cars carrying well-dressed couples on their way to eat sushi at Ra or steak at Bandera. A young valet waits at his stand, eyes wandering toward the street, or to a pretty girl who passes.

And then, suddenly, everything turns — or at least seems to turn — black and white.

A gritty song from the 1930s blares from a small store and a handsome gentleman appears, dressed in a tan linen shirt and cream linen pants. He says hello, and motions to the store. His name is George Efthimiou, and he can transport you back to a time when a nickel could buy a song, and a dance if you were lucky.

Efthimiou, an Athens, Greece, native whose accent is as striking as his enthusiasm, is in the business of nostalgia. Out of his store, Nostalgia Electronics, he buys, sells and restores jukeboxes.

"This is a form of art," Efthimiou said.

On the wall, there is a photo of Efthimiou in 1956, standing by a jukebox. He has been doing this — working with music systems, old and new — for 45 years.

The store, a tiny space next to Pischke’s Paradise restaurant, opened seven years ago. Efthimiou doesn’t employ any help and as such, Nostalgic Electronics’ hours are unpredictable; customers are encouraged to call ahead to find out if the store is open, or to book an appointment.

When explaining his love for jukeboxes, Efthimiou uses words like "genuine"

and "simple" and it seems to take all of his power not to start dancing when a record begins to spin.

"The song is under the skin!" yells the 63-year-old, as music blasts from a 1958 Seeburg Select- O -Matic ($6,500). Moments later, he turns on a modern Rock-Ola jukebox ($3,495), but it isn’t long before the CD, apparently warped by the heat, begins to skip. Efthimiou throws his hands in the air.

"Never skips!" he shouts, pointing to a fully restored 1946 Wurlitzer 1015 ($25,000). This model, with its colored bubbling tubes, wood-paneled front and bright lights, is one of the most recognizable jukeboxes in the store. The push of a button is all it takes to ready a record and play a song, and the simplicity of it is just part of the Wurlitzer’s charm.

"The ladies love it," Efthimiou whispered.

Though much of his business comes from themed restaurants like the 5 & Diner, Efthimiou also serves homeowners who commission him to hook up jukeboxes in their home theaters. The juxtaposition is almost laughable when you consider how many remote controls it takes to operate some home theaters. Efthimiou said his customers like to have a choice between a modern stereo system and the jukebox, because not only do the two look different, they sound different, too.

"With the jukeboxes, you have the romantic depth of those songs," he said.

Though coin-operated phonographs can be traced back to the 1890s, it wasn’t until the 1930s that jukeboxes became popular in the United States. Today, they can be found in diners, pool halls and no-frills bars. But none of those jukeboxes seem to engage people as much as they once did. On a recent night at Dos Gringos in Scottsdale, no one seemed to notice the jukebox sitting in a far corner — whereas years ago, its presence would have turned an ordinary room into a roaring dance hall.

"It’s a challenge to survive, but it’s very, very rewarding. It seems to me I have a few good years to go," Efthimiou said.

Top 10 all-time

jukebox

hit singles 1. "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley 2. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline 3. "Old Time Rock & Roll" by Bob Seger 4. "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye 5. "Don’t Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley 6. "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets 7. "Hey Jude" by The Beatles 8. "The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding 9. "Lady" by Kenny Rogers 10. "Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado Source: Wurlitzer Jukebox

ROCK ON: The Rock-Ola R-91 tabletop model that plays up to 100 CDs is a modern twist on the classic jukebox.

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