SAN DIEGO — Arturo Urgelles, owner of the Art-Te Company downtown, keeps his finger firmly planted on the pulse of the local Latino record-buying market.
He regularly monitors their beat and studies their rhythm.
And after nearly 30 years in the business, his diagnosis is the same as it was when he started out: The only way to make a go of things is to carry a little bit of everything.
To begin with, Urgelles said, Latino are not as easy to categorize as their record-buying Anglo counterparts.
"The customers at most American record stores are young, and their tastes are limited to rock 'n' roll records in the latest Top 40," Urgelles said.
But Art-Te's customers cover all age groups and all tastes. Only a small percentage of them like rock 'n' roll; most prefer more traditional Latino music--not just from Mexico but also from Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries. These traditional styles include ranchero (Mexican popular music), norteno (Mexican country music), salsa (dance music featuring lots of brass) and cumbias (from Colombia, with an accent on percussion).
"That's why we carry everything from A to Z," Urgelles said. "As a service to our customers, we carry full catalogues of almost every Hispanic artist who was popular in the last 30 or 40 years."
Accordingly, current pop sensations like Menudo and Julio Iglesias are in the minority on the store's hit parade of more than 5,000 records and tapes, Urgelles said.
Instead, the top sellers include the sparse ranchero music of Jorge Negrete, one of Mexico's top recording stars in the 1940s; the wistful ballads of Javier Solis, big a decade later; and the romantic sounds of Pedro Infante, who reached his peak in the 1960s but continues to sell scores of records.
"From those three guys, everyone else who ever made it big in Mexico learned how to do it," Urgelles said. "Unlike most American record-buyers, Mexicans don't forget. The music of their youth--the music they grew up with--is still the music they like to listen to today.
"And what's funny about that is that a lot of our biggest sellers, like Pedro Infante, have passed away, yet their music still lives on."
Other big sellers at the Art-Te Company, Urgelles added, include Spanish recordings by American artists like Nat King Cole, Vicki Carr and Ray Conniff, albums by veteran Latino pop stars Roberto Carlos and Jose Jose, and traditional norteno recordings by such perennially popular bands as Los Tigres del Norte.
On a recent afternoon, just minutes away from the 6 o'clock closing time, more than a dozen customers--most of them Latino--were browsing through the racks at the Art-Te Company.
Up near the cash register, a bearded young man who gave his name only as Antonio asked Urgelles for some cumbia cassettes by a Mexican group called Los Cumbieros del Sol.
"Here, look for yourself," Urgelles said, dumping about 20 cassettes onto the glass counter.
"I've been coming here for the last three years," Antonio said as he carefully inspected each tape.
"I like cumbia music, and every payday I come here to buy one or two more tapes."
In the next aisle, one of the store's few non-Latino regulars was thumbing through the expansive ranchero section.
"I've been listening to ranchero music for about a year," said Bill Smith, 32. "I was studying Spanish and began listening to Spanish radio in order to learn the language better.
"And after a while, I began to like the music, especially ranchero music by Vicente Fernandez and Rocio Durcal. I've been in here about four or five times, and I never leave without buying something."