Sign of the
For nearly fifty
years, a TCU landmark has withstood the test -- and tastes
-- of time
Motorists streaming down
University Drive seem to pass without noticing the
vintage neon sign that beckons you to travel back in
Shaped like an oversized record —
that's Nipper the RCA dog in the center — it welcomes
collectors and connoisseurs to Record Town. After TCU
Cleaners closed a few years ago, the record store became the
oldest business in the shopping strip, the final remnant of
a bygone era.
Maybe because it's been there since
1957, Record Town and its one-of-a-kind sign blend easily
into the bustling landscape. In the age of iPods and MTV, it
is a rare mom-and-pop establishment, resisting with all its
might the pull of fast-paced life.
"It has changed," acknowledges manager
Sumter Bruton III '68, "but it's been a slow, gradual
The Bruton family, which has operated
Record Town since day one, gets by without a fax machine or
Web site or computer. Owner Kathleen Bruton, who opened the
store 49 years ago with her late husband, Sumter Bruton Jr.
'54, keeps the accounts by hand and the inventory of
thousands of vinyls, tapes and, yes, CDs by memory.
"If somebody asks me if we have Ray
Wylie Hubbard, I don't have to look it up in a computer,"
she said. "I know."
Back in the 1950s and '60s, Record Town
was where TCU students went for the latest hit from the
Beatles, the Doors or Dave Brubeck. Fewer students owned
cars then, making the proximity to campus and to the popular
TCU Pharmacy a distinct advantage. Wal-Mart and Best Buy
didn't exist to dilute the market.
"Back then, my parents weren't much
older than the students," Sumter III said.
Not as many students drop by now.
But each weekend, a handful of regulars
in their 50s hang out and reminisce about the glory days of
playing in bands. Sumter jokes that the reason the business
has stayed open is that its customers don't know how to
Take one look at the posters adorning
the walls or sift through their trove of old photos and rare
recordings, and it's clear the Brutons don't just sell
music, they live it.
Sumter Bruton Jr. was a musician, as
are both sons. Austin songwriter Stephen Bruton '71 spent 17
years as a guitarist with Kris Kristofferson. Older brother
Sumter played baseball at TCU for two years before forming a
short-lived band with classmates in 1964.
"We weren't really good," he recalled.
"We played at pep rallies."
He later started a more successful
outfit, the Juke Jumpers, which still plays the occasional
Working for the family business for
more than 30 years can be a grind at times. No sick days. No
tropical vacations. And if the storefront needs sweeping,
you'll see Sumter out there, broom in hand.
He figures his last day at Record Town
will be Record Town's last day, too.
For now, though, the store and its
near-pristine sign remain almost exactly like they've always
A few months ago, an antique dealer
from Minnesota asked how much for the sign. Kathleen gave
Sumter the answer nostalgia fans would expect from TCU's
local music matriarch: "Tell him it's not for sale."