Rock Fantasy in Middletown, NY opened on Nov. 6, 1985.

With about $2500 cash and the blessing of his parents, Stephen Keeler, a lover of hard rock and heavy metal, opened his hard rock/heavy metal concert shop back in 1985. Now if you wanna go back even further, Keeler actually opened a shop called Rock and Roll Fantasy in 1979 on rt 211 in Middletown. That shop would last a few months before a robbery would shut the business down which nowadays is a Wendy's fast food restaurant. Rock Fantasy was the idea of Keeler, who wanted to open a shop that would be a place for heavy metal fans to get hard to find releases from band's like Metallica, Slayer, Venom, who weren't really main stream in 1985.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Keeler

After years of doing the flea market circuit selling records, t-shirts, pins and such, a heatstroke would sideline Keeler and would eventually motivate him to open the physical store at 79 West Main St. Rock Fantasy Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Concert Shop would be successful at the location for many years, eventually moving next door to 75 West Main St. where the store would remain for nearly 20 years. An accidental delivery to the shop of a box consisting of pipes and bongs around 1987 would give Keeler the idea of expanding his record store to include a head shop offering tobacco products to consumers. During a sales slump around 1989, a female employee who also happened to work for Metal Blade Records suggested to Keeler to start carrying the hot new item known as the compact disc. Cd's would make their way to Rock Fantasy along with the large assortment of vinyl and cassettes on hand. Comic books were also a big deal at the time with the release of the Batman movies, so the store started carrying comic books as well.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Keeler
Photo courtesy of Stephen Keeler

A summertime concert in 1991 at the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown known as the Clash of the Titans would feature Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and a little known band at the time called Alice In Chains. Rock Fantasy would get the opportunity to have Alice In Chains for an in-store, meet and greet appearance. The band would blow up and be huge just a few months later.

Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains and some folks, photo by Giulio Marcocchi /Getty Images

Other in store appearances would follow from heavy metal bands like Exodus, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, and Sepultura to hair bands like Bang Tango. Pro wrestling would also be a popular niche at Rock Fantasy with wrestler meet and greets in the mid to late 90's. Wrestling superstars The Iron Sheik, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Abdullah the Butcher, Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Al Snow, and Luna Vachon among others would all make their way to the popular Middletown store. The store would also of course carry wrestling related stuff like t shirts and action figures. Throughout the 2000's, Rock Fantasy continued to survive while many record stores around the country closed up shop. The Great Recession in 2008 was a difficult time for the store but Rock Fantasy forged on by selling off a bunch of pinball machines and expanding the smoke shop to make ends meet.

Fast forward to 2019: Rock Fantasy moves once again to a bigger location just around the block at 12 East Main St. in Middletown.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Keeler

The new 2600 square foot store features everything a rock n roll fan could want including vinyl, t shirts, posters, action figures and all sorts of related memorabilia plus a pinball machine room with nearly 50 machines including rock favorites from Led Zeppelin, Kiss, AC/DC, Metallica, Rob Zombie, Ted Nugent, there's even a Beatles pinball machine. After opening just in time for the Christmas Holiday in Dec. of 2019, Stephen Keeler had to deal with Covid shutting his business down just few months later in 2020 but the store survived and is still going strong. The newest location brings in a lot more foot traffic says Keeler, who talks with some customers these days that had no idea the rock shop had even been around all these years. The new location is also located next to a brewery called equilibrium, which has become a collaborator with Rock Fantasy. They even carry a Rock Fantasy beer! In part, Keeler credits the resurgence of vinyl in recent years to much of his success in keeping the business going these days. He hopes to retire at some point but let's hope it's not for some time. At least until maybe after the store hits the 40 year anniversary milestone in a few years. Nowadays, Rock Fantasy is a full service record shop carrying all genres of music and they participate in Record Store Day. For more on Rock Fantasy, check out the official website here.

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