Thursday, August 1, 2013

My 200th Post: A Special Post for a Special Place

This is my 200th post since beginning this blog about 18 months ago, and I wanted a special subject for it.

Sally's Place, as I have written about many times before, is the record store in Westport, Connecticut where I spend a lot of my time, talking with Sally, with customers; looking at new and old CDS; and learning as much as I can about jazz and other musical genres. Sally White is now 84 years of age, looks much younger, and acts much younger still. She attributes it to her daily yoga workout and herbals like ginko for the memory; whatever it is it sure does work.

Sally is proud to note that she has been selling music on Main Street since 1958, first at Melody House, then running the record department at Klein's, and finally for the past 28 years at her own store "Sally's Place." 

And it isn't just jazz that she sells and knows so much about -- she's a whiz about classical, show music, folk, rock, effectively everything. Ask about the Grateful Dead or Doors and she'll tell you about seeing them when they were still playing at school auditoriums; ask about the James Gang and she'll give you chapter and verse about Joe Walsh and all the groups and solo work he's done; but most of all ask about jazz, her great love.

Sally grew up in Norwalk -- one of her classmates was Horace Silver. She talks about the great days of taking the train into New York, see the shows on 52nd Street, or even earlier about movies with big bands playing on the stage afterwards. She'll talk about those nights and how they'd end up at Bradley's in the wee hours before returning home. And most of all she'll tell you about some of the musicians she's met along the way, how she was serenaded for her birthday one night at a club in New York, or what a gentleman Red Garland, one of her favorites turned out to be when she met him.

Her favorites are Chet, Frank, and Oscar, but also Red is up there. The fifties were her decade and Blue Note her label, and while she loved the old days she is hip to everything since.

Then she'll tell you about the people she has known in Westport who over the year frequented the store, names like Dave Brubeck, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodard, Gerry Muligan, Alan Arkin, Keith Richards, Mary Travers, Bennie Wallace and many many more. And the young kids she knew who grew up to be musicians like John Schofield and Adam Nussbaum.  Adam still sends her a postcard from every stop he makes on his tours. The autographed pictures around the store are testament to the many folks she knows and has known, and include many others too, Carla Bley is up there, as is Javon Jackson, both on signed photos too.

And there are the various knick knacks and other assorted memorabilia that fill the place with joy --- Frank Sinatra champagne, Frank Sinatra wine, Frank Sinatra Tomato Sauce, Frank Sinatra cigars, Frank Sinatra busts ----see a pattern yet; but also a Satchmo bust, a Columbia Music clock, speakers given to her from Blue Note, a photograph of "One Day in Harlem" and so much more.

And then if you are around the store for any length of time you'll find an incredible number of patrons who she has known for 40 or even more years, who are often bringing in the next two generations of the family to meet her. And all the folks who worked for her at one time or another and still come back from out of town to see her. Or the kids who got hooked on music because 25 years ago she gave them an album to hear that opened their eyes to new musical experiences. Or you'll see she gets calls for special orders from everywhere, friends of friends who directed them here, or folks who left Westport but not Sally.

Hang around long enough and you'll see that this is one big family. Sally is all about service to the customer, helping the customer find the exact recording they want either in the store or via special order, or offering suggestions when asked. She does everything with joy and passion and it radiates outward to everyone. The most important customer is the one she is talking to -- she won't pick up the phone to interrupt helping the person who walks in the door. They'll call back if they need something is her mantra, and they will need to call back because there is no answering machine. And no cellphone. And a computer for the customers because she cannot use one. This is old style service just like when she started 28 years ago. Inventory is kept in her head, and new orders and requests for special orders on spiral notebooks in her handwriting. Orders are made by phone to her suppliers, and most can be filled within one day from when a person makes a request. And she mails CDs for free.

Sadly Sally has had to announce she is going out of business at the end of August. Not because she wants to; after all, she says there is no better place to be each day, seeing everyone and doing what she loves. She had hoped to keep going until the end or as she likes to say "until they carry me out." Time didn't catch up with her, the music industry did. She made the move easily from LPs to cassettes and CDs (and even back to LPs again), but she couldn't overcome the impact of, first, internet shopping and, next, MP 3s, and finally Spotify and Pandora and the rest. Her customer base eroded, internet pricing hurt her most of all on new pop and rock music, but also on her core jazz. The woman who had seen Sam Goody come and go in Westport as well as Strawberry, the Barnes and Noble music section, and several other music stores has finally had to call it a day. Last year it was Cutlers, an institution up the road in New Haven and Colony in Washington and Bleeker Bob's and who knows who else. This year it's Sally's.

And we're losing more than just a music store and Sally's company. We are losing a bit of our souls, a bit of what makes our town special, and a lot of history. We are losing a place for our musical community comes together to talk. Where will Campy, Neil, Jud, Art, Steve, Steve, Michael, Friday Fred and the rest of us find each other to talk about music? Where will young people still learn about music, both today's and yesterday's rom someone who really knows. And we can never replace Sally, never ever, not her passion, her love of music, her love of every one of us, nor her deep knowledge.

Of course we wish her all the best but we also wish she could stay with us a little longer, and I know she feels that way too.

[Some final notes: Sally is still taking special orders for music, and still has a lot of great stuff on hand. She is also selling the memorabilia to interested customers, so if you want something call her at 203-254-0303. Because of course she doesn't have a website either!]

[And finally, for those interseted, Sally has recently been profiled in many Southern CT newpapers and also by Spike Wilner of Small's Jazz Club, so you can read more about her there.]

1 comment:

  1. While it is indeed sad to see local shops disappear, thus ripping the heart out of the local community, blogs such as yours point to alternative way that we can learn about music. There are thriving virtual communities out there based on some gifted and passionate writers. I'm trying to convince myself that we may be even more enriched by such multi-cultural exchanges though of course it's hard to share a smile and a cup of coffee via a blog.

    Congratulations on your 200th post by the way!