Summer 2006
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TCU Magazine "Academe"

For nearly fifty years, a TCU landmark has withstood the test -- and tastes -- of time

By Mark Wright

Motorists streaming down University Drive seem to pass without noticing the vintage neon sign that beckons you to travel back in time.

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 process."

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 download music.

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 gig.

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 been.

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."

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