The 200 to 500 blocks of Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff possess some of the most familiar sights in the city of Dallas, such as the giant, plastic cow on top of the Charco Broiler Steak House, the black raven on the former home of Raven's Pharmacy and the star-studded neon glow of the Texas Theatre's sign.
Jefferson Boulevard almost lost one of its familiar sights last year. During one of the pair's regular meet-ups, former Top Ten Records store owner Mike Polk told Barak Epstein, president of the Texas Theatre's operating company, Aviation Cinemas, that he was thinking about retiring and closing the music store.
Instead, Epstein helped Polk reopen the store as a nonprofit. The reopening party was Saturday, and the yellow sign that's graced the Jefferson Boulevard landscape for the last 60 years is still intact.
"I would come in and get an RC Cola and just chat with him on a Saturday, and I realized that lots of people do that and not just over the past few years but over the past 40 years," Epstein says. "People just come in and chat with the guy. It's an organic thing, and you don't realize you're doing it."
The retail music store may seem like a dinosaur in the age of digital distribution, but local places like Top Ten Records provided more than just the newest and rarest albums, cassettes and CDs during the last 60 years. The record store also has a deep historic connection to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
It's the last place where Dallas police officer J.D. Tippett was seen alive Nov. 22, 1963; he tried to make a phone call from the store's rotary phone before he was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald less than a mile away at the intersection of 10th Street and Patton Avenue.
"This is already a community space where people can sell their own records and volunteer their time at the shop," Epstein says. "So it made sense to actually put that in legal terms and make it a nonprofit."
Top Ten Records will continue to sell music and movies in a wide variety of formats and will serve as a lending library for music. Guests can enroll in a monthly or yearly membership plan that lets them borrow specially marked, rare recordings just like they would do with books from a library. The membership also offers access to a digital collection of rare films, such as director Spencer Williams' critically acclaimed 1941 film The Blood of Jesus, via Southern Methodist University's extensive media library.
"I'm excited about them keeping it open because we've been there for 60 years," says Polk, who's retired from the shop but has a seat on Top Ten Records' newly formed board of directors. "It's good about the music business in terms of retail is dead."
Saturday's grand opening attracted a steady stream of customers and visitors who perused the store's growing collection of albums and tapes, including the vinyl soundtrack to The Beatles' 1965 film Help! (better remembered for the tunes than the story); a rare 1960s pressing of Nashville Records' Top Ten of Country Music featuring early recordings by George Jones, Jimmy Dean and Dottie West; and a 1990 double-sided single from The Bizzie Boyz featuring "If You Don't Want Me" and three cuts of "Droppin' It." All are available to borrow.
The inside of the store looks new although it hasn't undergone renovations in five years. The walls and shelves are freshly painted, neon signs flash in the store's window, and throwback touches like the Philco radio sign that hangs over the lounge area and performance space add to the charm.
"We tried to keep some of the original features like the Philco building because it used to be an electronic store before," says Skye Olson, a volunteer who helped design the store's new interior look. "We kept all the original signage and all the original neon and repaired it. So we reference those things while still making something new."
The most noticeable change is the customers who trickle in and out of the place on a muggy Saturday afternoon. Although they could easily listen to pretty much anything in the shop by buying it on iTunes, streaming it on Spotify or downloading it illegally, the store gives them a place to leaf through album covers and talk about their favorite movies and music.
"I'm glad to see it will be here in a protectable way," says customer Chris Gardner, who picked up a copy of Waxworks' vinyl soundtrack for John Carpenter's isolationist horror classic The Thing. "It's part of the history of Dallas."
Polk says that although he's no longer running the store, he's happy to see it has a place and purpose.
"I'm just tickled to death that the store can continue going," Polk says. "Everything is a gift from the creator above if we just keep our mouth shut and enjoy the things we have."
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