Iconic Central Texas record store set to close

CIARA O'ROURKE Austin American-Statesman Published:

SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) -- It was the 1970s, and for one hour, Bobby Barnard was in charge of the register at Budget Tapes & Records in Houston. His brother had left for a nearby warehouse to pick up a shipment of new music, leaving Barnard to help customers and control the store's needle. He put on Pink Floyd's "Meddle."

The store sold out before Barnard's brother returned. When he swapped the record for "Electric Warrior" by T. Rex, the record was among the stacks customers walked out with. That sold out, too. By the end of the hour, Barnard had sold $300 worth of music.

"It shows you the power of a great rock record," said Barnard, who now owns Sundance Records & Tapes in San Marcos. "What a record store is about is turning people on to great music."

Now it's 2012, and great music persists. But the customers don't. Barnard is closing his iconic store just off the city square.

"It's time," he said.

Inspired by the record stores he has frequented since he was a boy, Barnard opened Sundance in 1977, layering the walls over the years with newspaper clippings and posters; Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen's rear among them. Records, CDs and vinyl 45s clutter shelves. R&B is nestled next to country. If a customer can't find a certain album, the store will special-order it -- no extra charge, no problem.

Sundance is among the oldest continually operating music stores in Central Texas, Barnard said, and the only independently owned shop in San Marcos.

Kent Finlay, owner of the Cheatham Street Warehouse honky-tonk, said Sundance has the best vinyl collection in the state and nurtured the local music scene.

"It's more than a store," Finlay said. "It's a piece of our soul."

Next week, it closes.

There was the Internet and then the recession, and in spite of bolstering his music stock with T-shirts and other merchandise, money's tight, Barnard said. Now customers shop on iTunes, if they even pay for the albums they listen to, he said.

"We had a great run," Barnard said. "We've had a good effect on people's lives, small as it might have been."

What's left of the best vinyl collection in the state is destined for Sig's Lagoon, a record store in Houston. The store closes Sunday, but Barnard, with a smile and a shrug, said customers can come by that day and pick through the remains.

A string of musicians including Bill Whitbeck and other local artists will perform for what Barnard calls a "dedication to music" Saturday, a final fete for the store.

For Barnard, it's bittersweet. For Parker Wright, who started helping out at the store when he was a boy before coming on full-time several years ago, it's frustrating.

"I feel like something else could've been done," Wright said.

Freddie "Steady" Krc, an Austin musician and owner of the SteadyBoy Records label, said he'll bear a black armband when he attends Saturday's show. Krc said he doesn't drive through San Marcos without stopping at the store to thumb through the records, where albums by local and regional artists occupy the same retail space as national headliners.

"There's lots of stuff I wouldn't have gotten into if I hadn't walked into a music store first," San Marcos resident Dan Holmes said during the store's final days, flipping through some CDs with quick clicks.

Hanging above the collection is a sign, a call to action on coral-colored printer paper: "Sundance Records urges you to support small businesses -- the backbone of the USA."

But other signs in the store remind patrons that this is the end.

"All CDs $2.00 off."