World Records turns 30 this Saturday. Live music will help us mark the occasion. The Flying Arvizu Brothers play inside from 9 AM to 10 AM. JT Butler and the Horizon Blues Band will play in front of the store from 10 AM to 11 AM. The FIVE, featuring BRUCE JONES, will play inside from 11 AM to 11:30 AM.
It’s a good time to look back on where we came from as we look forward to a new decade.
In February 1982, Scott Schwebel and I, who had been close friends since fourth grade, went out in search of an album. We drove to each of Bakersfield’s five record stores. None of them had the album. And worse, none of them cared. Not cool.
By the time we got back to his house, Scott said we had to open our own store. I said, “No…OK.” After four months of construction, with immense help from family and friends, World Records opened on June 12, 1982 at Oswell and Columbus. Scott and I were 22 and 23 years old and had a record store. We thought that was pretty cool.
We kept our ‘real’ jobs, thinking the store would be profitable on its own. Not quite. That September, Scott went out to dinner with his fiancée Linda, said good night, and died in a wreck on the way home. I spent four months trying to figure out which way was up. The store was adrift and the staff ready to move on. I coped by quitting my financial analyst job to focus on making Scott’s idea succeed.
To Scott and me, a cool record store would be well-stocked, well-organized, have good prices and a staff who cared more about the customer’s music than they did their own. So this was the model I pursued. Lots of folks responded to the effort. We gathered customers. Many became friends on a first-name basis.
CDs began showing up in the mid-eighties. By the end of the decade they were beginning to squeeze out LPs and cassettes. Because CDs were more expensive, customers wanted a way to make sure they were buying something they would like. In 1992 we moved to Stockdale and Coffee in order to showcase an addition to our business model three years before it started showing up at other stores – headphone stations so customers could listen to anything we stocked. More customers. More friends.
By the mid-nineties several factors led us to make another addition to our model – put on concerts, especially for artists that are highly respected, but not well-known in Bakersfield. Put on shows as music fans on behalf of music fans. Showcase people, not products. Therefore never resort to ticketing service charges or commercial sponsors. Regularly partner with local causes. More customers. More friends.
World Records hummed along well into 2003 selling CDs and staging shows. Then the ground began to shift. Recorded music was now digital and easy to pirate. Baby boomers already owned most of the music they wanted. And the general economy was heading into the tank. CD sales plummeted. Record labels desperate to move inventory cut deals with Target, etc., so that CDs were selling up the street at far below our cost. By 2007 most record stores in America had closed. If we were just a business we also would have. But we weren’t. So we didn’t.
In 2008 we decided to move downtown to cut rent expense and get further away from the Rosedale strip. Word of our ‘closing’ travelled fast and wide. By phone and by foot we were inundated with people telling us how much the store means to them. Most prefaced their remarks with apologies for not shopping at World Records like they used to.
Our ‘closet’ of a store on G Street gave us a chance to assess our position. Let’s see, we’ve made tons of friends over the years. They think our store is very cool. They respect what we stand for. They tell us we make this community a better place to live. They hope we’re doing really well and don’t want us to close. But they no longer have a reason to visit.
A good record store is a cool, disarming place to be. It houses the collective spirit of artists that created masterpieces as well as artists that flashed for only a moment. We’ve spent years watching people come to our store to take a break and relax in the company of music and people who believe music matters. They come to World Records to talk music and connect with their passion.
So World Records bought, cleared out and moved into a large building on F Street that will become the Dream Theater – a gathering place for people who love music. With the record store as the backdrop, the Dream Theater will be a center where people can break bread and immerse themselves in music. To be fully infused, a center must be created by its community. Therefore the Dream Theater remodel project will be made possible by ‘bricks,’ $100 contributions that get paid back after four years. 202 people have their brick already. The ambitious remodel begins with the 500th brick.
This letter arrived Saturday –
“You don’t know me, but my wife was a frequent customer in you shop for many years. Like you, music was one of the most important things in her life. She despised ‘big box’ music stores, and much preferred to go to places like World Records, where she could talk to like-minded people like yourself.
Sadly, we lost Jane three years ago to cancer. I have enclosed her obituary to help you remember who she was.
In reading your emails, I’ve followed with interest your desire to establish the Dream Theater. This is the kind of place Jane would love, and I know she would support your efforts if she could. So, en lieu of Jane, I thought I would send a gift in her memory.
This is not a loan, as your notes suggest. But rather, please accept this as a voluntary gift toward achieving the dream.”
Scott got it started, and people like Jane helped keep it moving forward. No doubt, they think this new phase for World Records is pretty cool.