The Rhein Main Audio Club was the greatest of an interesting phenomenon, the military-based semi-private audio-video shop. These were bits of focused interest created by the dynamics of the Cold War and the special economic and demographic conditions that congealed in the eddies of power, influence, and logistics formed in those special circumstances.

During the Cold War, a huge number (roughly 1 million, 250,000 soldiers and their families and sundry hangers-on) of Americans were based in Europe. Since they were mostly young adults and 100% employed, they formed a significant consumer block. Add to that the fact that military personnel overseas are not subject to customs duty and sales taxes, mix in a generous helping of free shipping, and you get a ripe opportunity to set up a store where a set of B&W 801 speakers cost "only" $6,000 instead of $15,000.

The Rhein Main Audio Club was called a "club" because it was run by the base Moral, Welfare, and Recreation office, and was therefore a service provided to the base personnel for recreational purposes. The fact that servicepeople from around the world came there to shop was icing on the cake. Many were simply enroute from one place to another (Rhein Main Air Base was a major tranfer hub), and the rest went out of their way to go there and shop. For many audiophile products, the Audio Club was the only place you could go and see them, much less buy them without an appointment.

The facility was run by a (semi-lovable) curmudgeon named Al Shapiro, who was a bomber pilot during WWII. (He used to joke that he bombed his wife before he married her.) His tight management and nose for good deals kept the club highly profitable while still providing deals of up to 80% off street price.

The club was so influential to the industry, it didn't have any sales staff, only cashiers and support personnel. The various high-end companies supplied their own sales personnel, and some of them would handle several non-competing lines. It was often a stepping-stone for higher positions in the company whose lines they sold (several highly-placed Bose and Polk Audio personnel still working today started in Germany as sales reps to the military, for example.) Many of these people worked there for years, and developed their own reputations in the industry.

There were a couple of clubs with similar reputations, such as the Ramstein Air Base Audio Club and the one in Lakenheath, England, but the numbah one Club was at Rhein Main. It was eventually shut down in the years following the end of the Cold War and fall of the wall, and is mourned by many. I mean, where else could you test-drive both Klipsch Cornwalls and Infinity Kappa speakers in the same shop, and have the salesperson hand-carry that Threshold Stasis amp so you can hear how it sounds with each?

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