After 61 years on University Drive, Record Town packs up with a new groove on the way

Record Town is moving after 61 years across from TCU. Always known as a place to find old, rare and obscure music albums, the store is moving south of downtown near the South Main Street development. 

Jim Milan Jr. remembers the first 45 he bought at Record Town, the 61-year-old University Drive record store: Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man," which came out in 1961. Milan would've been around 7 or 8 at the time.

"I remember I was really kinda antsy about getting it because it was 79 cents, and I only had [14] cents," says Milan, who would come to the store with his father, the long-running Fort Worth jazz musician Jim Milan. "So I was gonna hit him up for like 63 cents or whatever it was. 'Is he going to go for this?' "

Milan, who still has the single, says that Record Town used to be the "Saturday hang," where music fans could preview their purchases in listening booths and otherwise just hang out.

And on Saturday, a lot of music fans were hanging out at the store because it was its last day in its University Drive location.

The location is going away but the store isn't: In a few weeks, it will reopen at 120 St. Louis Ave., in a small center next to Collective Brewing Project about a block north of Broadway Baptist Church.

Still, there are a lot of emotions and memories connected to the 3025 S. University Drive location, which opened in 1957 and is one of the country's oldest vinyl record stores.

"We kinda grew up here," says musician-turned-real estate developer Tom Reynolds, who along with Burleson businessman Bill Mecke recently took over primary ownership of the store from the Bruton family, which had owned Record Town since it opened.

 Jack Hartsfield, of Fort Worth browses the bins for music old and new as Record Town closes its location on University Drive and will relocate south of downtown, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Rodger Mallison Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jack Hartsfield, of Fort Worth browses the bins for music old and new as Record Town closes its location on University Drive and will relocate south of downtown, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Rodger Mallison Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"My first memory of coming in here, I was 11 years old," Reynolds says. "Maybe summer of '65. Spent every dime I had on records, beginning then. Records back then were three dollars and 10 cents, as I recall. So I just spent it all."

The store was opened in 1957 by Sumter Bruton Jr. and his wife, Kathleen, and Reynolds says the Brutons were always helpful.

"Mrs. Bruton was just a sweetheart," he says. "So welcoming. Mr. Bruton, being the hardened New Jersey jazz drummer that came down here to start this business, if he knew you were serious in a particular area, he was just great. I'd walk in and he'd say, 'Hey, Tom. You like this jazz guitar stuff. Have you heard of this guy?' I'd say, 'No, I haven't.' 'You should check him out.' That went on for years. So much of my record collection, which is pretty vast, was assembled right here, in this place."

Kathleen Bruton and her son, Sumter Bruton III, will retain ownership of the store, as will Gerard Daily, a longtime manager of the store. Sumter Bruton Jr. died in 1988; his other son, Stephen Bruton, a guitarist who aside from issuing his own solo work had played with Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Delbert McClinton and others, died in 2009.

Sumter Bruton III, like his father and his brother, is a musician, and was also a longtime manager of the store.

"When young Sumter first started working here," Reynolds says, "there were times that Mr. Bruton would say, 'You're into that blues stuff, too? You need to talk to my son. He really knows about that stuff.' And boy, did he."

Reynolds met Mecke, who moved to Fort Worth from San Antonio in 1989, at Record Town several years ago.

"I never knew Mr. Bruton," Mecke says. "But I knew Sumter III, and he gave me the education that [Tom] got from Sumter Jr. Sumter was really incredible about obscure blues artists."

When Reynolds and Mecke found out that Bruton planned to shut down the store when the rent started getting too high, they decided to save it by moving it to the new location on Fort Worth's booming Near Southside.

"That whole area is really growing," Mecke says. "[The new location] is close to everything on South Main; it's fairly close to everything that's on Magnolia, so it's going to kind of bridge that Magnolia-South Main area."

The new location will be close to other small record stores: Panther City Vinyl, a pop-up at 1506 W. Magnolia Ave.; Dreamy Life Records, at 1310 W. Allen Ave.; and Off the Record West, a cocktail bar at 715 W. Magnolia Ave. that also sells vinyl.

Besides Collective Brewing, the new Record Town location will be neighbors with Leaves Books and Tea Shop, scheduled to open this year in the same development. There is a courtyard in front of the future record and book stores, and Record Town's new owners say they plan to have live music there.

Mecke and Reynolds say they envision a new store that looks a lot like the old one, with new and used vinyl lining the walls, and a mix of compact discs, cassettes and even a handful of 8-tracks. But they also plan to have a seated listening area in the front of the store and to increase the stock, especially older titles.

Record Town has a long connection to the Fort Worth music scene — veteran artists such as Delbert McClinton and T Bone Burnett visited the store, as did rising soul singer Leon Bridges.

"[Burnett] would come in here and listen to all kinds of music," Reynolds says. "He and Stephen were both drawn primarily to bluegrass, folk music, acoustic music, things like that." (Burnett and Stephen Bruton shared a Grammy Award for the soundtrack to the 2009 movie "Crazy Heart.")

"If there was any local people made good, and this includes Betty Buckley, certainly Stephen [with] all the Kristofferson stuff, [the store] would really talk it up," Reynolds says. "When the 'Cats' soundtrack came out, they made sure they had plenty of copies, because of Betty Buckley."

Reynolds says he walked in one Saturday when Sumter Bruton III was behind the counter, and a young man came in behind him. He went back to the back, took a guitar off the wall, sat on a stool and played a little bit.

"I'd hear him kinda hum and it sounded kinda nice, a little Sam Cooke-like, y'know?" Reynolds says. "About 15 minutes later, he'd hang it up and thank Sumter and go on out the door. I said, 'Who was that?' 'Oh, it's this guy Todd Bridges. He's a real nice guy, he doesn't have a guitar so he comes in.'" Todd Bridges became Leon Bridges.

Unlike the University Drive store, the new location will have a website. Milan, who was a cashier at the store for a few years in the mid-'70s, says he remembers Kathleen Bruton painstakingly noting the catalog numbers of albums by hand every time a purchase was made. "That was the Bruton bookkeeping way," he says.

Reynolds says that the inventory for the store will be packed up on Monday and moved on Tuesday. Work needs to be done on the floors, and the famous Record Town sign with Nipper the RCA dog in the middle, which hasn't lit up for at least six years, is being refurbished and will glow once again. But it may be a few months before it's back up on the new location.

"I have to admit, it's going to be strange to open Record Town, even though it's us, in a new location," Reynolds says. "I can't really stress enough the sort of historical imprimatur, if you will, of this place."

Mecke adds: "I felt sad walking through the back door this morning. I hate to close this chapter, but the new chapter's going to be incredible."