Casa Amadeo in Longwood thrives during COVID-19

Miguel Amadeo speaks about Casa Amadeo and how it has survived COVID-19.
Photos by Jason Cohen

Miguel Angel Amadeo, better known as “Mike” Amadeo, owns the oldest Latin music shop in both the Bronx and all of New York City.

The shop was founded in 1927, first located in East Harlem at Second Avenue and 116th Street. Victoria Hernandez and her brother Rafael took over the store in 1941, when it moved to 786 Prospect Ave. in Longwood. Originally dubbed Casa Hernandez, Amadeo bough the shop in 1969 and renamed it Casa Amadeo, antigua Casa Hernandez.

Amadeo, 86, a renowned musician, has survived a lot, including the era when “the Bronx was burning,” 9/11 and the recession. But unlike some less fortunate businesses, his shop is thriving during COVID-19.

When the pandemic arrived he closed until June, but since reopening business has been booming. Guitars have been flying off the shelves, which is bringing in a great deal of money.

“It’s better than selling records to tell you the truth,” he explained. “Nobody wants to buy records now because you can download everything. In order for me to make that profit that I make off one guitar I’d have to sell 200 or 300 records.”

At age 14, Amadeo left Puerto Rico and traveled five days by boat to the United States with his mom Vicenta. His older brother was already living in the states along with his father Alberto Amadeo, who had left his mother when he was a baby.

His dad was a prominent Puerto Rican composer and singer and that year, he met him for the first time.

“Everybody knew my father because he was one of the big time musicians in New York,” Amadeo said.

Amadeo lived in The Barrio throughout high school and at 15, his cousin Tony gave him a guitar for Christmas. From then on, he was hooked.

He never took lessons and taught himself how to play. In 1951 he was living across the street from a record shop, Casa Latina, a famous place in The Barrio and got a job there making $2 an hour.

“Being there, I would make new friends,” he sai. “Those friends were guys making music in New York.”

At 16 he began recording songs and once of legal age, was jamming out in nightclubs and bars. While he only performed for a decade, he wrote more than 250 songs and had a profound impact on the Latin music industry.

After being drafted and serving in the U.S. Army, he worked at Alegre Records at 8522 Westchester Ave. for 10 years. It was there where he learned how to run a business.

Eventually, he heard Casa Hernandez was going to be sold and seized the opportunity.

“I said I’m willing to buy you out, you can’t close this place,” he recalled. “It was right there when my life began to go uphill.”

More than five decades later he is still the proud owner of Casa Amadeo. He recalled how he withstood the fires when the Bronx was burning and at that time had no running water.

Over the years he has seen businesses come and go, yet his store always remained. At its peak, Casa Amadeo was a place where musicians and composers would flock.

In 2014, the corner of Logwood Avenue and Prospect Avenue was renamed Miguel Angel “Mike” Amadeo Way and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Looking back on life, he is happy and wouldn’t trade places with anyone. Amadeo and his late wife Maria put their sons Tomas and Miguel through college and never borrowed money.

Though well into his 80s, Amadeo said he has no plans to retire.

“I’m going to die right here,” he said. “Music is my life. You know what’s nice? I was able to do this without going crazy and doing the wrong things.”