By Kimberly Smith
Point Park News Service
In an age where digital music has taken over the industry, 64-year-old Jerry Weber created a name and a legacy not only for his store, but also for himself as the owner of one of the best all vinyl record stores in the country.
His store, located in Squirrel Hill, boasts over one-million vinyl albums, with just as many stored in his Oakland home and warehouse.
But Weber didn’t start out with this multitude of vinyl to sell.
Originally a postal worker, his start in record sales came in 1976 when he was offered an empty store room above a bar for $75 dollars a month in Oakland.
“A friend of mine and I decided to open up a used record store up there,” he said. “We put up a big sign ‘We Buy Records.’ That’s when it all started.”
After putting his own personal records into the store to sell, he grew his collection to approximately 30,000 records.
A widower, with two children and five grandchildren, Weber devoted his life to his store, and the music.
“After my wife died, I never remarried,” he said, starting to grin. “No one would put up with me. So now I live in my warehouse and do what I want.”
He has also passed his love for music along to his son, Willie. Half of his store is devoted to “Whistlin’ Willie’s ‘78s,” where his son sells old 78s from the 1950s, Weber said.
Never a musician himself, Weber found a love for singers, no matter the genre, through their harmonies.
“[Music’s] always been there,” he said. “And I love singers. Whether it’s folk, or jazz, or rock, or even foreign music, or pop music…I like everything; that’s why this store is what it is. I’m the only one in the world that I’ve ever heard of that would stock all these things that don’t really sell.”
Weber’s favorite singers, all female vocalists, include June Christy, Anita O’Day and Chris Connor.
“They were these smoky jazz singers that didn’t make a lot of records, didn’t sell a lot of records, but they could sing, and that’s the kind of stuff I like,” he said.
Weber said he can tell customers if he has any album in stock and where it is located.
“And I never forget a song; I never forget lyrics,” he said, sitting behind the cash register of his store, wiping off a record. “I have almost a photographic memory when it comes to music.”
Vince Bomba, who owns the neighboring turntable repair shop, Galaxie Electronics, said Weber is good-hearted and has a love for what he does, which is the reason he was so successful in building the massive collection.
“He really loves what he does,” said Bomba. “He loves his records. And it’s amazing how he knows what he has. You can ask him about a band, he can point to it, and it’ll be right there unless it’s sold out.”
Rolling Stone named Jerry’s Record Store as one of the best record stores in the United States, and Weber believes it’s because his store is one-of-a-kind.
Weber says he knew CDs wouldn’t last and got out of that business in 1993 and switched to all vinyl when he moved his location in Oakland to his current Squirrel Hill building.
“I’m a prophet when it comes to that stuff,” he said with a hint of a smirk from behind his white beard. “Records are always going to be there. CDs are less than 30 years old and the first ones already sound like shit…What are they going to sound like in 50 years? They’re going to deteriorate – the lasers won’t read them right…Most of these records in the store are at least 40 years or older and still play real fine.”
His store sells to a very specific demographic of music lover – the small percentage of those people who like the physicality of albums compared to digital media, Weber said.
“Some people just like records,” he said. “They like the feel of them; they like to own them. They like to point to the wall and their record collection instead of saying, ‘I have 2,000 songs on my MP3.’ That doesn’t impress anyone, but having a record collection does, I think.”
And reach his demographic he does – his store draws people from all over the country as well as international collectors who come to dig through the shelves.
Ed Salamon, from Nashville, Tenn., says that Weber created something one-of-a-kind.
“It’s definitely a labor of love that he’s built,” Salamon said. “There aren’t many like this anywhere, and it’s great for those of us who like to have the physical artifact of a record to be able to shop for them.”