RIP Streetside Records Delmar

streetside.gifThe flagship store in what was once St. Louis’ biggest record store chain shuttered its doors for good on Christmas Eve. We share some of our favorite memories of the chain, and encourage you to do the same.

 

Founded in 1971, Streetside Records was, for many years, the record store chain in St. Louis, with dozens of locations scattered throughout Missouri and Illinois. The general downturn of music retail coupled by a pair of buyouts (first by New Jersey-based chain CD World, then by retail giant Trans World Entertainment) whittled the number of Streetside locations down to just a handful, but the company’s flagship store at 6314 Delmar in the U. City Loop remained a thriving destination. On December 24th, 2007, the store will be closing its doors for good, with the venerable record store being forced out by their landlord to make way for a pair of chain restaurants.

While the Delmar store is not the last Streetside location (the store at 10865 West Florissant in Ferguson remains, as do the locations in Columbia and Kansas City), it is the original Streetside, located just across the street from where the first store opened its doors 36 years ago. The loss of the flagship Streetside store marks a major change in the musical landscape of St. Louis in general and the Loop in particular, and we here at PLAYBACK:stl decided to mark the occasion by offering up some of our favorite Streetside Records memories, as well as solicit memories from the St. Louis community.

With the busy holiday season, entries are still coming in. If you have a memory you’d like to share, please feel free to add it to our comments section below, or send it to jason [at] playbackstl [dot] com for inclusion in the article.


 

My discovery of Streetside Records coincided with my foray left of the dial. I remember asking for — and getting — a stereo one year for Christmas. Hooray, I’d graduated from my clock radio! I promptly set about trying to find every station now available to me, including a number of low-watt college stations. I quickly zeroed in on KYMC (89.7) and KCFV (89.1), both of which were new wave and commercial-free. Suddenly there were all these artists I’d never heard of, deeper album cuts from ones I had; I was in heaven.

Of course, you couldn’t find all this music at the mall record stores. I don’t honestly know how I discovered Streetside, but I do know the Creve Coeur store quickly became my second home. At first, I had my parents drive me up for special requests and release days, but once I began to drive — and especially the summer I worked at Six Flags, when I drove past Streetside every work day — I soon took excursions there by myself or with friends. One time, a friend and I rode our bikes from my house in Olivette to the Creve Coeur Streetside…though what we planned to do with any potential LP purchases, I have no idea.

Although I’ve whittled down my vinyl collection extensively, I still have a handful that came to me from the bins of Streetside. My two-CD import Japan album — an upsell from what I’d gone in looking for — still ranks among my prize possessions, along with Tic Toc (don’t worry; nobody remembers ’em), Big Country (after a point, I graduated to CDs, but the LPs from Streetside got me started), Modern English (the second album, not the first), early Wire Train, the entire Adam & the Ants vinyl collection (save for a British import of Kings of the Wild Frontier, which I found at a tiny shop in Bloomington, Ill., of all places), all my Oingo Boingo (up to and including the Weird Science soundtrack). Oh, and my Tommy Keene Songs From the Film which, though reissued on CD a few years back, just isn’t the same without side one and side two.

Of course, I’ve got some post-college memories of Streetside, too, including the night I left my then-husband on his birthday in order to get New World Spirits’ Fortune Cookie at midnight on its release. Hey, it was their Universal Records debut (and flop), and they were performing in store! But for the most part, once I’d moved to University City, Streetside and I drifted apart like friends who no longer have the same interest. Somehow the Delmar store failed to hold the same charm for me as the Creve Coeur one had. Of course, by then, LPs had turned to CDs and, somehow, the joy of record shopping had been reduced along with the size of the packages. | Laura Hamlett

 


Growing up on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, the U. City Loop always sounded like paradise to me. Sure, we had music stores in Fairview Heights, even our own Streetside Records, but it just wasn’t the same. When you come from a town that’s basically a circuit of strip malls radiating out from a giant mall, the idea of a hustling, bustling street where you can walk between quirky boutiques and two — count ‘em, two – real deal record stores…well, like I said, it sounded like paradise.

My brothers finally took me to the Loop for the first time when I was 13. While I grew to appreciate its charms in later years, at the time I didn’t quite get what the fuss was about the dusty, stuffy Vintage Vinyl, but I immediately took to Streetside. It had a whiff of familiarity to it — like a hipper, more rock n’ roll cousin to the store I already knew. The purchase of the day was the then-brand new Megadeth album, Countdown To Extinction, which I remember my brother making fun of me for buying (I also remember not caring that he was making fun of me). But with a half-hour car trip and an hour or so of shopping under my belt, I was in dire need of a bathroom break, and luckily I was just young enough for them to let me use theirs. There in the backroom was this disgusting little hovel of a bathroom, its walls wet and rotting, its stuffy air reeking of incense and god knows what else. There, plastered on the tank of the toilet, was a Vintage Vinyl sticker that had been meticulously chopped up and reformed to say “Vinyl Vagina: New and Used Poop.” Being 13, I naturally thought this was the funniest thing I had ever seen.

About 8 years later, I was going to college and happened to spy a “now hiring” sign in the front window of the Streetside on Delmar. Having recently seen High Fidelity, I had a very romantic notion of what working at a record store would be like and when I, by some miracle, got hired, I was happy to see the “Vinyl Vagina” sticker was still very much intact. Some things never change…

I was always fascinated by Streetside’s clientele. You could pretty much tell the day of the week by the type of CDs that were going out the door. New release Tuesday was owned by the latest rap releases; we’d have stacks upon stacks of 30-count boxes of the week’s newest cuts and would sell pretty much nothing else all day. Many people don’t realize it, but for the last decade the Delmar store wasn’t just a hip-hop store, it was the hip-hop store: if I had just a penny for every copy of Nellyville or Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ I sold at that store, I’d be a very rich man. Friday nights were generally the hipster crowd’s night of choice, although you could also tell it was Friday by the sudden increase in the number of drunk/high customers that came in through the door. Saturdays were suburban rock crowd days, when No Doubt and John Mayer CDs would go flying out the door. Back in the early days, the classical section took up a third of the store’s floorspace, and all the classical customers would come in Sunday as that was the day our classical guru was guaranteed to be there to answer every obscure question.

When CD World bought the store, things changed, but it was after Trans World took over that the entire store seemed to change before my eyes. The classical section shrunk from a room to a half-room to a paltry half-row of CDs. In their place, DVDs started to take over more and more floorspace, going from one 6-foot section of wall to eventually conquering half the building. Ludicrous, time-consuming sale pricing meant having to change the price of every copy of dozens of new releases every couple days. The ability to listen to anything and everything over the store’s PA was replaced with corporate approved compilations akin to what you hear when wandering around Best Buy. When the word came down that they’d be enforcing a dress code, well, that was the last straw for me and at least a half dozen or so of my fellow employees.

Still, there are so many fond memories from my 4 years there. The They Might Be Giants instore, where eager fans began saving floorspace at least 6 hours before John and John arrived. The Murphy Lee instore that had an unannounced appearance from Nelly — we let people through the front door in groups of 10, and the shrieks of excitement as each new entrant saw St. Louis’ favorite son was unlike anything I’ve seen before or since. Sometimes, the rock n’ rollers were just there to shop…I got a kick out of watching one of the hired-gun sidemen in All American Rejects came in surrounded by fawning high school girls while the band’s guitarist – who actually, y’know, writes the songs n’ stuff – walked around with headphones on and managed to stay completely anonymous. And I really will have to thank Streetside for so many crazy stories that I’ll be able to tell for the rest of my life, tales of shoplifters chucking fire extinguishers through the front window to escape, or of the kid who would only buy cassettes of albums released in the year 1990 (he bought at least 4 or 5 copies of New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough from me alone). Buy me a drink some time and I’ll tell you a few…I’ve got dozens.

What makes the loss of the Delmar Streetside such a blow for me is that the store, despite the general downturn of the music industry, was still holding its own; it’s their landlord and the ongoing commercialization of the Loop that signed the store’s death warrant. The fact that Miles Davis’ star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame is going to be outside of a freakin’ Chipotle Mexican restaurant honestly churns my stomach a bit, to be honest.

It’s true that at the end, the store wasn’t the same as it ever was, but with the dedicated staff that remained there, they tried their damnedest to maintain that Loop personality in the face of all the corporate BS. I went in the store on its second-to-last day in business to take advantage of the storewide sale and snag some Christmas presents. As I was being checked out, the Beatles came on over the store’s speakers; the clerk ringing me out hummed the melody as two teenaged girls in line behind me began to sing along. With music retail dying, it’s little moments like this that are dying along with it. As I walked out of the Delmar Streetside for the last time, weighed down with shopping bags and humming the Beatles myself, it was bittersweet to see that the ol’ gal still felt like home. | Jason Green

 


A Streetside Records Memory:

I spent a lot of time at the Streetside Records in Creve Coeur as a kid – mainly because my sister used to take Saturday afternoon dance lessons at the Patzius Performing Arts Studio right around the corner, and I was frequently dragged along. I have no outstanding memories of musical epiphanies or bizarre run-ins at the store (that I can recall), other than to say that it was an important part of my musical education, probably assuming a level of influence just behind what I learned from listening to the radio (and just ahead of what I learned from watching TV’s “Solid Gold,” hosted by Andy Gibb, Marilyn McCoo, and Dionne Warwick — yikes!).

During the years I was at Streetside on most Saturdays, my formative, elementary-school musical tastes were forming. The displays of “flats” (album-cover facsimiles arrayed in fun designs across the walls), the comment placards from employees on what they considered cool, the free surplus posters bin, the tchotchke zone near the registers, the music playing over the store PA, and so many other discrete features of the store had an impact on me. Record stores are personal like that, especially when you’re an adolescent. Buying music was something I was and continue to be very circumspect about – my personal rule: buy no LP unless you can be certain you like at least three songs on it. That one was truly a challenge in the time before you could listen to any song from any album in the store via the headphone stations you’ll find dotting the Borders music section. But in the age of amazon.com and the iTunes, it’s a moot concept. And it only serves to remind me of all the moot media that Streetside used to sell: VHS tapes, Laser Discs, cassettes, and those very short-lived “cassingles” come to mind.

The most vivid memory I have of the strip mall that included Streetside is not anything that happened at the record store, but something that happened at the drug store about four shops down. I asked to use the bathroom there, and settled in with a magazine for a leisurely dump. By the time I was ready to resume an upright position, some time had passed, and I returned to the dance studio to find the police conferring with my mom and sister. Apparently, I had taken long enough to void my bowels that my overprotective Jewish mother, who didn’t know where I’d wandered off to, had alerted the cops to my probable kidnapping, and they’d come over with lights and sirens at full tilt. For us Jewish boys with a hover-and-smother mother, Portnoy’s Complaint was more than a novel – it was our living nightmare. But I regress…

Another Streetside Records memory that should be noted: the death metal section at the Watson Road location. Nowhere else in St. Louis (as far as I knew, anyway) would give this sicko subgenre its own special section. Too fast to live, too young to die.

RIP, Streetside. | Byron Kerman

 


My memories of Streetside Records on Delmar are rather limited. I only made a few purchases there. When I went to high school in St. Charles I usually went to the store there and after I moved back in 2000, I always preferred the store on Watson Rd. While I missed the salad days of the U-City store, one of their other locations implanted itself deep into my memories.

Growing up in suburban Kansas City, Streetside Records was a symbol of newfound freedom. In nineteen eighty whatever, my parents finally unhooked the chain from my dog collar and let me walk down to shopping center all by myself. I had my designated stops: 7-11, a grocery store, a bookstore, and Streetside. At that time Big League Chew, baseball cards, and Big Gulps were the lion share of my actual purchases on these treks, so my first times inside Streetside were mainly spent thumbing through the vinyl in the back of the store all the while asking a million stupid questions to the employee stuck in the store’s bullpen. “Uh, Who are the Dead Milkmen?” “Who are the Butthole Surfers?” “Who are the Dead Kennedys?”

Eventually, I began purchasing cassettes from the store. Drum roll: Phil Collins, Billy Joel, REO, Rod Stewart, and Weird Al. However, my greatest Streetside moment came about because of my early love of pro wrestling. I bought Black Sabbath’s Paranoid because “Iron Man” was the entrance music for the tag-team The Road Warriors. I cannot imagine the amusement – or disgust — of the clerk when I first described the song as an instrumental and then proceeded to hum it out for him. I didn’t even know who Black Sabbath were. Damn, I was cool.

A few years later, my musical leanings changed for the better. While many a CD was purchased from Streetside stores in Lawrence, Leawood, Columbia, and Creve Coeur, the memories that really stuck happened during a time when music had little to no part of my life. It really is strange how things turn out. So, who is this Sufjan Stevens guy anyway? | David Lichius

 


Memories can’t wait
I have better GOOD memories of Streetside Records as a customer than I do as an employee. I remember finding the Streetside in the loop in 1981. Finding obscure Visage and Polyrock records there. I remember driving from Warrenton, Missouri, after work to shop at the Creve Coeur Streetside only to find them closing the store. It took me over an hour to drive there and I sometimes never made it on time. Mr. Kessle would talk them into opening the store as long as I knew exactly what I wanted. I grabbed my Skinny Puppy and Love and Rockets records and was out the door in 3 minutes.
I can remember thinking how cool it would be to be a musician AND a record store employee with my own CDs selling in the store. I GOT my wish. It sucked. When I worked at Streetside on South Grand it was fun for a couple months. Then I would find myself getting “write ups” (misconduct slips) for doing things like making animal sounds at the customers, telling “white jokes” (it was a mostly urban store, so a white guy telling white jokes was extremely funny), the irony of this is that the manager that was scolding me was the same one fired for smoking crystal meth in the employee bathroom and having sex with a number of under aged neighborhood girls.
As for being a musician with my own CDs on sale at the store, some of the other employees that were NOT in bands would do things like:

  1. Hide my band’s CDs so that customers could not find them.
  2. Crack the jewel cases of my CDs.
  3. Tell customers that Streetside did NOT sell my cds there.

A couple years later when I worked at the Delmar Streetside, my manager informed me that if I wanted to continue selling my CDs there, I would have to pay an $80 fee for every title and go through Blue Sky Distribution. What a surprise then to find the president of Streetside Records becoming the president of Blue Sky after all the Streetsides were sold.

I worked for Al Karnisky and at first I thought he would get rid of me fast but as we got used to each others “strange ways” we formed a sort of Skipper and Gilligan relationship. He was very set in his role of manager and he was the hardest working Streetside employee ever. He would even show up on Christmas when the store was closed and change endcaps and scan product, etc. I would do things (not purposely) that would just make him boil with frustration/anger but every once in a while I would catch him laughing at something I had done. I secretly think that when Al was younger he was a clown like me, which is how he figured me out so well.
Sorry, but that’s my story. After getting several guns pulled out on me at the Grand Streetside by local gangstas and having managers that “partied” treat me uncool just because I was in a band with cops, I decided that I was better off making CDs that didn’t sell that well as opposed to selling other people’s that DID. | Tory Z Starbuck, Music Instructor at COCA and Washington University.

 

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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