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37 Years After It Opened, Bill's Records Is Still Special

On a chilly Sunday morning, Bill Wisener turns on the “open” sign at his vinyl record store, one of the oldest in Dallas. You'll recognize Wisener’s shop when you spot the red “Bill’s” sign hanging outside the store, which is nestled next to Poor David’s Pub on Lamar Street in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood.

Wisener is answering phone calls behind the cluttered counter near the front of the store. Music enthusiasts from all over the U.S. call 73-year-old Wisener every day to ask about the stock of vinyl records, CDs, cassettes, concert posters and pins, original paintings and other treasured music memorabilia in his store and on his eBay account.

He's sold vinyl records for 46 years, so he has extensive knowledge of popular music. But Wisener is not a walking, talking iTunes algorithm.

“I can hear something that will just take me to a place where I’m not lonely at all,” Wisener says. “Whether I’m lonely or sad or whatever, I like music because it always helps me enough. It helps a lot of people, and I think eventually that there’s music and sound that can heal any physical illness we have.”

Wisener has been a friend to Dallas’ music community for years. For decades, Bill’s has been a sanctuary where music nerds come together to browse for rare records and well-known classics.

New customers will be surprised to find there are no price tags on any of the merchandise. Wisener likes interacting with his customers and talking music. If a customer wants to make a purchase, they must negotiate with Wisener at the counter.

The shop’s front door swings open, and Carlton Edwards Sr. and his teenage son, Carlton Jr., walk inside.

“How is everything organized, Bill?” Edwards Sr. asks.

“Well, what are you looking for?” Wisener responds.

“Anything rock, like Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.”

Wisener points to crates of popular vinyl albums he keeps in front of his counter. The father and son begin to flip through the crates. Wisener moves from his chair behind the counter and helps father and son to pull some of the more popular rock albums from the collection.

After browsing through the stack, Carlton Jr. selects Suicidal Tendencies’ self-titled album. They negotiate the price and Wisener rings it ups. When the sale is complete, he rings the metal chime that hangs above the counter.

The yellow wall behind the counter is decorated with photographs and personal mementos of Wisener's. Most of the photographs are of friends, including singer-songwriter Ben Harper, whom he met more than two decades ago. Also on the wall is one of Harper’s gold records, a present the singer gave him years ago.

Two special photographs Wisener keeps on his wall are of his parents: his father in his U.S. Air Force uniform and his mother posing for a magazine.

Wisener was born in 1944 in East Texas. His father was a military man, and his mother worked in early childhood education. When Wisener was young, his father relocated the family to the Dallas area, where they settled in Garland.

“I didn’t like it up here when we first moved because that was the only home I knew, in East Texas, where it is totally different, and I wanted to go back home,” Wisener says. “But then I fell in love with Dallas.”

After he graduated from high school, he enrolled in Southern Methodist University and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in business from North Texas State University, now the University of North Texas.

In 1973, Wisener opened several booths in Vikon Village, a Garland-area flea market, where he sold an array of items, including books, antiques and used vinyl records.

Wisener eventually opened a shop at McKinney Avenue and Routh Street and later relocated the store to Lower Greenville near the San Francisco Rose.

In 1981, Wisener opened the original Bill’s Records shop in the Northwood Hills Shopping Center, at the corner of Spring Valley and Coit roads. After spending a few years in the shopping center’s strip, he sought a bigger space for his growing vinyl record collection.

Wisener eventually moved Bill’s into the former Northwood Hills 4 movie theater, which gave him nearly 8,000 square feet of space to sell records. Throughout the '80s and early '90s, Wisener’s massive shop was a staple of Dallas’ music community.

“The cool thing about Bill’s is that it was more than a record store,” says Jeff Kovarsky, the afternoon host of Lone Star 92.5. “It was a place where you could hang out. It was a place where not just record fans would come, but also the DJ community.

"I remember when the Beastie Boys came to Dallas in the early '90s," Kovarsky continues. "I interviewed them on The Edge, but then the first thing they wanted to do afterwards is go to Bill’s Records because you know Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA all heard about Bill’s. I mean, Bill’s had a reputation nationwide. You know, you come to Dallas, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to find whatever record you’re looking for in the crates at Bill’s.”

Many local musicians, such as alternative rock group Tripping Daisy, Erykah Badu, Rhett Miller of The Old 97s and Robbie Van Winkle, better known as Vanilla Ice, regularly visited Wisener’s shop before hitting it big in the music industry.

“You never know when somebody is going to become famous,” Wisener says. “And sometimes you don’t even know they came into your store before they got famous, like St. Vincent. I didn’t know until she told on the radio or something that she used to come in my store, but I didn’t know. I just thought she was a pretty girl that could sing.”

In 2007, as vinyl record sales declined, Bill's moved from the Northwood Hills Shopping Center, where it had been for 26 years.

A few years after Wisener moved to the Cedars, Erykah Badu celebrated her birthday at Bill’s and performed on a makeshift stage Wisener created using tables. Badu is one of many friends he has made during his time selling records in Dallas.

“I’m grateful for exactly what God has given me,” he says. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.”

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