Introducing Superfly’s Lone Star Music Emporium
By Richard Skanse
(LSM Jan/Feb 2013/vol. 6 – Issue 1)
In this age of downloading — legal and otherwise — and Spotify, conventional wisdom would tell you that the traditional record store is dead. Nobody “buys” records anymore, at least not the kind you can’t stash in the “Cloud,” so you’d have to be crazy to open up a new store in 2012 committed to selling music on shiny plastic discs and, good lord, vinyl, right?
Damn straight. And proud of it.
“We’re going against the stream,” says Zach Jennings, owner of LoneStarMusic.com, this magazine, and the newly opened Superfly’s Lone Star Music Emporium in San Marcos, Texas. “When I was at UT in the late-90s, you couldn’t go out without running into a record store on the Drag, downtown … man anywhere in Austin. Music consumption patterns have undeniably changed with digital/streaming services, but I really think there’s still an audience out there of people like me — and people like the guy I was in college — who are passionate enough about their music to want it in a format they can collect and hold.”
When Jennings and his wife, Megan, purchased Lone Star Music from previous owners Michael and Clair Devers and Chad Raney four years ago, the company was headquartered at its original brick-and-mortar building in downtown Gruene, Texas. That location had been open for the better part of a decade, catering exclusively to fans of the Texas and Red Dirt music scenes. LSM had a good long run in the historic tourist town, but in the summer of 2012, Jennings felt the store was at a crossroads. The lease on the building was up for renewal at the end of August, and with it a hike in the rent. Fully aware of the aforementioned gloomy predictions for the record store business — and thinking ahead to the prospect of someday having to put two daughters through college — Jennings and his wife weighed the option of closing shop and focusing all of their attention on the company’s online store and magazine. The only other option was to throw caution to the wind and put even more of an investment into the Lone Star Music store, expanding its catalog of music titles (without scaling back a cent on its name-sake Texas selection), adding a variety of gifts and other merchandise — including custom-designed T-shirts, printed right onsite — to its wares, and tapping into a brand new audience on top of its existing fanbase. Being a bit of a gambler — and too much of a music fan to stomach the idea of giving up on his dream of owning a record store — Jennings committed to the second option. Problem was, the old store in Gruene wan’t going to cut it, space wise.
Right about the same time, a few miles up the road in the college town of San Marcos, the storied Sundance Records came to the end of its 30-year-run on April 1 when owner Bobby Bernard decided to retire. When Jennings heard the news that Sundance’s 3,100-square-foot space right across the street from Texas State University was opening up, he jumped right in. The weekend that the lease expired in Gruene, the LSM family packed up the entire store — including its iconic wooden statue of Bob Wills, carved by chainsaw maestro Doug Moreland — and moved to their new digs at 202 C University Drive in San Marcos. A few days later — OK, the better part of three long, nerve-wracking, very expensive months worth of days later —the new store was open for business, under a new, expanded name to reflect it’s bigger vision: Superfly’s Lone Star Music Emporium.
“We obviously wanted to keep the Lone Star Music name, but the idea was for LSM to be a store-within-a-store in San Marcos, so we needed to have something that was all-encompassing,”explains Jennings — adding that “Superfly,” apart from being a badass film soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield, was also the name of a beloved family cat.
Although the new store still features all of the “Lone Star” music CDs that LSM has specialized in for more than a decade, half of the floorspace is now dedicated to an all-genre collection of new and used vinyl — a format that has enjoyed an encouraging resurgence in recent years, especially amongst young adults and college kids who were born in the era of CDs and MP3s. Along with ordering hundreds of different new and reissued titles on wax, Jennings recruited former Sundance manger Greg Ellis to help build up a collection of used vinyl. A couple of weeks before the scheduled “soft” opening in October, Superfly’s was good to go with a modest but respectable starting selection of a few thousand titles on vinyl … and then they hit the mother lode.
Jennings heard through the Facebook/Red Dirt grapevine that Dave Ray, brother of Roger Ray of Jason Boland and the Stragglers, was closing his own little record store — the Beat Pharm — in Pueblo, Colo. Ray was looking to get rid of his remaining vinyl stock — an estimated 20,000 records — and made Jennings an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He just basically said, ‘If you want them, come and get them and you can have them,’” recalls longtime LSM staffer Kristen Townsend. “And Zach said, ‘Ok, who wants to go?’”
Jennings still had his hands full dealing with the last stages of construction renovations needed to bring thebuilding up to code. But Townsend and fellow staffer Hannah Sears jumped at the offer of an all-expenses paid three-day adventure. All they had to do was fly into Denver, rent a U-Haul, load it up with a few boxes of records and drive them back home to Texas. How hard could that be?
Plenty. Their first night, in Denver, was apparently a blast — as best as they can remember it, anyways. “We went out to like every bar in Denver — and then found an Octoberfest celebration,” says Townsend. That seemed a good omen to the two gals from New Braunfels. The following morning, optimism undeterred by their altitude-enhanced hangovers, they picked up their U-Haul (a 26-footer, biggest one on the lot) and drove to Pueblo, arriving at the Beat Pharm in mid-afternoon. “We figured we’d get there and we’d get everything loaded in like, two hours, tops,” says Townsend. Only those 20,000 records turned out to be more like 30-40,000, most of which hadn’t been boxed up yet. By the time the last crate was stuffed into the jam-packed trailer, it was past sundown.
They knew there was no way they were going to make it to Santa Fe that night, as they had originally planned, but they still hoped to get as far as they could before finding a hotel. They made it three hours — three miles from the state line — before they had their first blowout. (Note that word “first.”)
“Right before that happened, we had stopped at a gas station and this guy was like, ‘Be careful for all the wild game out there — you’re about to go through the pass,’” says Sears. “And then we had a blowout right in the middle of the pass.”
“In the middle of nowhere, with no lights around us,” adds Townsend.
Luckily, they still had cellular reception to reach Jennings, who promptly called for help. The wait for roadside assistance proved a good deal more nerve wracking for Jennings back in Texas than it was for either of the girls.
“I tried to act calm on the phone with them, but I was flippin’ out at home, just pacing back and forth and muttering things under my breath about their fathers probably wanting to kill me,” Jennings admits. “At the core of it, I was trying to figure out which part of my brain thought it was a good idea to send two girls in their early-20s on a cross-country record haul in the middle of nowhere during the middle of the night.”
Hours later — the U-Haul guy had to make two trips, because he brought the wrong tire the first time out — the girls wearily drove into Raton, N.M., where Jennings booked them into a Holiday Inn Express. “We spent the night — best sleep ever — got up, had a great breakfast, and then 10 minutes after we got on the road again, we had another blowout,” says Sears. “This time, it happened right by this cowboy church, and this old lady and her husband who owned it came out and invited us in for lunch. We were there for probably three hours waiting for the tire guy. Fortunately, we could see our truck with all the records from their kitchen window.”
After that, their luck took a turn for the better. At their next gas stop they hit a scratch-off lottery jackpot — $25! — and eventually made it safely to Lubbock. “It was really nice to be back in Texas,” understates Townsend. They rolled into Superfly’s parking lot in San Marcos around 9 p.m. the following night, just in time for a celebratory round of Chimy’s margaritas. Their job was done — but for the rest of the Superfly’s staff, it was only just beginning.
“When I first saw that truckload of records, my initial reaction was, ‘Holy shit! Where are we gonna put this?’” Ellis recalls. “Then I just wanted to dive in and see what I could find.”
Two other former Sundance employees, Parker Wright and Xavier Little (aka “Little Walter”), were welcomed into the Superfly’s LSM Emporium family to help with the herculean task of going through the hundreds of boxes of vinyl to separate the good from the bad from the plain unsalvageable.
“After the first box I had gone through, which was magically just some mold that had become compressed into Dark Matter, the first thought I had was, ‘Let’s just burn all these records,’” admits Little Walter. “But when Zach said, ‘I need you all to go through these and figure out which ones we should keep, which ones are really worth something, and which we need to throw away,’ I got pretty damn excited. Sorting through 30,000 records is daunting in theory, but no music junky can turn down being paid to birth a record store.”
Against all odds, they got that baby delivered just in time for Superfly’s opening the second week of October. Three months later, there’s still literally thousands of LPs from the Colorado haul left to price and sort through, but the store hit the ground running with a heavy schedule of in-store performances, including the Departed, Rob Baird, Michelle Shocked, and the “Dirty Uncle Wheeler” posse (Dirty River Boys, Uncle Lucius, and the Wheeler Brothers). Business has proven steady, too, with longtime fans of both the original Lone Star Music and the late Sundance shopping alongside a new generation of Texas State students discovering the joy of hanging out at a record store for the first time.
“I think the record store is coming back,” says Ellis. “The experience of going into a store and flipping through thousands of records is the very antithesis of downloading or streaming music online. People bring their friends in and they are just captivated by the whole experience, yet to me it doesn’t feel nostalgic at all. These kids are not trying to recapture something. They are experiencing it for the first time, and they love it.”