Thursday, January 05, 2012

Webster Records to close January 31

According to a story by Deb Peterson published Wednesday on, Webster Records will close permanently on January 31.

The story says the store has been in operation for 58 years, which would make it St. Louis' longest-running independent music retailer and one of the more long lived businesses in the Old Webster business district of Webster Groves. It's been a haven for local jazz fans throughout the years, stocking recordings from smaller labels that were hard to find elsewhere, and presenting occasional in-store events with local jazz musicians.

The story also said, "Until the shop is shuttered, remaining inventory will be on sale, store manager Jim Lovins said in an email. Starting today it's 30 percent off of retail and prices will be discounted through the month, he added."

Although no specific reasons for the closing were cited, and current owner Jennifer Bellm was not available for comment, one can surmise that the store, like many other indie music retailers, just couldn't survive both the long current economic downturn and the drastic ongoing changes in the music business brought on by the advent of digital distribution.

Unknown at this time is whether the store's closing will have an effect on the Old Webster Jazz and Blues Festival, for which Bellm has been a prime mover in recent years. StLJN will have more on that if and when there are any developments.

A personal note: Yr. humble editor grew up in Webster Groves and went to Bristol Elementary just a couple of blocks away, so while I can't be absolutely certain, I think Webster Records probably was the first music store I ever visited on my own, without parental supervision.

This was when the store was in its original location, across the street and down the block from the current address. Original owners Roy and Dorothy Gleason built their business primarily on classical, jazz, Broadway cast albums and pre-rock-era pop music, along with an apparently profitable niche business in square dance records, which had their own little section in the store. Eventually they began to stock more rock records as well, but most of my purchases were jazz records out of the bargain bin at the front of the store, which held both cut-outs and LPs that had been marked down for clearance.

Since the Gleasons' clientele tended more toward trad jazz, big bands and swing, whatever avant-garde jazz stuff found its way into the store - presumably through some sort minimum-order arrangement with distributors - often languished for a long time before being relegated to the bargain bin.

And so by the time I was in high school and starting to investigate the various styles of jazz in earnest, I occasionally was able to make some sweet scores there, grabbing Impulse LPs by Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Marion Brown and others for cheap prices, even by 1970s standards. Webster is also where I scored my prized vinyl copy of Sun Ra's Heliocentric Worlds Volume 2, a record on the rather spottily distributed ESP-Disk label that I hunted for two years before finally finding it there, albeit at full price, probably a then-outrageous-seeming six bucks or so. Although I haven't shopped at Webster Records since moving away from Webster Groves in the 1980s, I'll always have fond memories of the store for those experiences, and I'm sorry to see it close.

(Edited after posting to fix a typo.)


Happy In Bag said...

Sad news. Excellent essay. Great job, Dean!

Dean Minderman said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Bill.

StL Steve said...

such a great place to go checkout music, and better than a candy or ice cream store* Maybe with the changing technologies "WR" could evolve to a new market. Great location! good luck on whatever they do and thanks for everything thru the years>