Early Record Stores: Wallichs Music City
by Jack B. Stephens
Before record store chains, people bought their music mainly from local record stores as well as some department stores. Cities, both large and small, typically hosted a local record store as one of their main downtown businesses. One early record store of note is Wallichs Music City in Los Angeles, California. We will take a look back at this historical and iconic record store.
The story of Glenn Wallichs, founder of Wallichs Music City, before the opening of the record store is interesting in itself. Wallich was interested in both electronics, radio and music. Among his achievements were building a very small radio inside of a sewing thimble at the age of 10. He is also credited for installing a radio in a Model T Ford which may have been the first car radio in Los Angeles. He worked selling radios for several years before moving into the record store business.
Wallichs Music City opened in July 1940 at the northwest corner of Sunset and Vine in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California. Wallichs established the record store along with brother Clyde. Glenn, along with Johnny Mercer and Buddy DeSylva, were also the founders of Capitol Records in 1942. The record label was the first major one on the West Coast. They wanted to form the label due to their dislike of the current recording industry which was dominated by the major record labels on the East Coast.
The headquarters of Capitol Records was first located on the second floor of the record store before the landmark Capitol Records Building was erected. The record store became the largest music retailer on the West Coast and in the nation. It was also the world’s largest specialty record store. It was a well known and huge part of the LA music scene, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The store sold records, sheet music, concert tickets, televisions and musical instruments.
Popular music artists of the time would often visit the store to greet their fans and sign autographs. These artists included big names such as Judy Garland, Eddie Cochran, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer and Nat King Cole. Frank Zappa actually worked at the store in 1965.
Another hallmark of Wallichs Music City was that they sealed the record albums in cellophane. They were one of the first known music stores to follow this procedure. This allowed the store the ability to display the records in racks for customers to browse through. Another interesting aspect of the store was how the records were put on display. Frederick Rice of Capitol Records designed racks that were tabletop height trapezoid shaped boxes. This allowed the covers to be viewed like a card index by the customers and insured that the sleeves were not damaged.
Wallichs Music City was the first record store that allowed customers to listen to records in private wooden booths within the store before buying them. This was seen as a way to sell more records plus give the customers a way to hear what they were buying. Listening to records before purchase was a practice that other record stores began to follow including the national record chains that would come later.
Increased store hours were another feature of the music store. During a time when many downtown businesses closed early, Wallichs stayed open until 2 am. These were not common hours during this era of time.
Wallichs Music City was featured in many newspaper advertisements and several radio jingles. They also published their own weekly hit music charts showing which records were selling the best. This was another practice that carried over to several other local record stores across the nation.
However, despite Wallichs fame and importance, times were changing. National record stores such as Tower Records, Licorice Pizza, Music Plus, and Wherehouse Music began to appear. Several other stores began to relocate from downtown areas to the ever-increasing popular malls. The record chains began to open stores in the malls leaving the once popular local records stores in jeopardy due to the huge financial backing the chains were able to attain. This meant that not only could the chains charge lower prices, but they could also build larger and more visual appealing stores.
The store faced bankruptcy in 1977 due to a huge decline in Wallichs music sales caused by competition from the large national record chains which had moved into the city and into the suburban malls. The store closed in 1978 and the building was demolished. Sadly, Walgreens now stands in the location where it all began and ended for Wallichs Music City.
Local record stores are a huge part of music history. With the resurgence of vinyl, many local stores have gotten much more popular again. Many of them have been open for several years and the number of new one’s opening are increasing. The national record chains, for the most part, are not around anymore so the competition is not what it was. However, since not all new music is released on vinyl, much of the merchandise is from the past. That’s not a problem though since many vinyl lovers are not looking for records from the present. It is becoming much more prevalent though that artists and groups are releasing their current albums on vinyl once again.
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In 1942, the major record labels (Decca, RCA and Columbia) were all located on the East Coast and there wasn’t a label of note on the West Coast. One day, Johnny Mercer and the owner of Glenn Wallichs’ Music City … Continue reading →
A 1960s postcard depicts Wallichs Music City at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street Photograph courtesy Vintage Los Angeles Bing Crosby shopped the aisles, Frank Zappa worked the floor Before there was a Tower Records, before the Capitol Records building was the Capitol Records building, L.A.’s coolest music-industry hub was Wallichs Music City.
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 24 (AP) – Glenn E. Wallichs, cofounder of Capitol Records, Inc., and chairman of the board of Capitol Industries, Inc., died yesterday at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital after a long illness. He was 61 years old.
Glenn Wallichs owned the biggest record store in Los Angeles. Wallichs Music City record store opened in 1940 and was located in H…
In September 1973. at the age of 8, I had started taking piano lessons. And a trip to Wallichs Music City in Torrance, at the corner of Hawthorne and Artesia.meant another chance to supply my voracious appetite for new sheet music. (Nearly 40-years later, I still have many of those John Brimhall piano books!)