A look at our local love affair with the independent record store

Javier Gutierrez, manager of Del Bravo Records, looks through a rack of CDs at the popular West Side shop. Photo by Mark Greenberg
San Antonio has had a long, complicated love affair with independent record stores. Never mind the corporate dollar-backed megamusic marts like Best Buy or Wal-Mart which, according to Del Bravo owner Javier Gutierrez, have the upper-hand in "ordering music in mass quantities ... therefore, selling it cheaper." National chains such as Wherehouse Music and Sam Goody, however, have recently filed bankruptcy, leaving smaller companies such as Half/Price Books, Records, and Magazines to stay afloat with primary sales of literary material (although you can still buy a first issue Hall and Oates "Maneater" single there). CD Exchange, on the other hand, has made a business out of its namesake; the customer service is outstanding, particularly at the Broadway location (3707 Broadway, 828-5525). Remove the listening stations that tend to require a Ph.D in aerospace technology to operate - and often leave you feeling isolated and self-conscious - add the cuss and sass left out by the Censors, and you have the bare bones of every music industry: the privately owned record shop, plastered with posters, flyers, and the occasional "seeking band member" sign.

Yet, independent is hardly synonymous with underground; the Music Connection (2106 W. Commerce, 271-3655; 7121 W. US Hwy 90, #140, 673-2850) reports to a Sound Scan, a computerized tracking service that charts music sales at 17,000 U.S. stores and directly influences Billboard charts and radio play. (We can guess that Music Connection sold out of 50 Cent's "In Da Club.") Manager Jack Hatala explains that being locally owned makes it difficult for landing high-profile in-store signings. However, such acts as '90s dance pop sensation Stevie B have been spotted signing autographs for us regular folk.

Some of the most underrated locally owned music shops specialize in accordion-laden conjunto magic. There are two things true of all San Antonians: We're fat and we love Augie Meyers. Javier Gutierrez, owner of Del Bravo Record Shop (554 W. Old Hwy 90, 432-8351), knows this and boasts operating a nearly four-decade old business. Participants annually in the Conjunto Festival, Gutierrez describes the logo printed on freely distributed store merchandise - "Conjunto to the Bone!" (insert emotional grito here). Those in search of Abuela's favorite polka can call Raul Limón. The Land of Oldies Record Palace (955 Pleasanton Road, #105, 924-1071) owner, music researcher, appraiser, good-natured loan shark (just leave your accordion), and herbalist, can't say what his favorite Texas Tornadoes track is - simply because he loves all of them.

At Rock Around the Clock (6618 Seidel Road, 653-5695), Gordon Ireland can help customers find any vintage oldies album, and may tell you about the time Alice Cooper checked out his booth at a local

Golden Touch Records' Phillip "Rap" Beykins hangs out recently in his new store on San Antonio's East Side. The store features an eclectic selection of music with an emphasis on R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and blues. Photo by Mark Greenberg
flea market. Gordon's father, Rick Ireland, co-owns CD Trader (10724 Perrin Beitel, 590-0045), a specialty import store for the classic metal enthusiasts (sign us up for some Mortis!). The rap-less shop has held autograph signing parties for Thin Lizzy, Moxie, and Dangerous Toys, among others.

Don't forget the 16 switches! Juan Almaguero, owner and operator of Styles & Sounds (1821 Bandera Road, 435-6499), has only been in business a year, yet he knows how to effectively promote his store: Set up a booth at weekly lowrider shows around the city.

Another newcomer to the independent record store front is Golden Touch Records (1535 N. Hackberry, 229-9709), which held its grand opening June 1. The store specializes in rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, rap, and hip-hop. (Look to Golden Touch for an unedited copy of "Magic Stick.")

Last year, Spider Records (502 Fredericksburg, 736-1697) owner Mary Galindo sold her 1973 Nova Supersport, and with that money, opened her shop. In addition to hosting in-store shows (she promises to buy big fans for the summer), Galindo promotes vinyl hardcore, punk, metal and New Wave music, as well as cheap record players. Running along the same line, Debi, creator and operator of the four-month-old Dirt Cheap Distro, specializes in hard to find punk, ska, and oi¡ music, bondage pants, studded belts, and wristbands. She recently had a successful grand opening show at Sam's Burger Joint with IOI, the Disowned, and Los Skarnales.

The longevity of live music venues in San Antonio is a fickle business, and the threat of low attendance at local shows, format changes, or closure affect every music scene. Enter the critically acclaimed Hogwild (1824 N. Main Avenue, 733-5354) to provide your vinyl version of the Gray Gerl Killaz album. Man-behind-the-action Dave Risher remembers a time when a "political vendetta was launched against the store by a former City Councilman for a sale of a 2 Live Crew album to an adult anti-porn crusader." After surviving a government-backed blow, as well as the music drought of the 1990s (it really happened), Hogwild hosts an annual Going Out of Business Sale the last three days of the year as a friendly reminder that although Big Business may still hog the market, independent record stores are, as Jesse Galvan, owner of Music Connection puts it, "like cock-roaches ... picking up the little bits." •

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