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The Last Record Store's Last Days

Ben Harper and Bill Wisener share a moment, as mutual fans and as old friends.
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Bill Wisener has been contemplating moving his legendary record store for years -- since at least the fall of 2005, when I spent a day with Bill talking about how difficult it was going to be picking up roots that had drilled to the earth's core. But, at last, the week of reckoning is nigh upon us: This week -- on Wednesday, to be precise -- Wisener will shut down his Spring Valley Road location, where he has been since 1980, and move to a new Bills Records and Tapes location at the Southside on Lamar. He'll be in the old Sears technical training facility, next door to Poor David's Pub. "I like it," Wisener says. "I like the view."

The old place is still open for business for a couple more days. All the country and Americana stuff is out and available, Bill says; it's what most of the regular still come by to buy. But the clock's ticking. Bill's been taking boxes of stuff from the old joint to the new store, but it ain't easy squeezing 8,000 square feet of stuff into 3,000 square feet of space. "The new store will be a work-in-progress," he tells Unfair Park today. "It's far from ready." But it'll have to be soon. Two days to go. Tick, tick, tick...

"If I hadn't had so long to think about this, it'd be overwhelming," Wisener says. "The overwhelming part was when I realized I had to do something. Now, honestly, it's like when you know somebody's been sick for a long time. It's not like death, exactly, but it's like when you know something's not gonna be anymore. I had to figure out a way to keep doing this, and this was the only alternative. You can't lose over $100,000 a year and keep operating. I would have never moved otherwise. But now, I think it's a total blessing because it happened. Now I got through all this, which I thought I couldn't do, and I know I'm gonna make it. I would have never made a change, but it gave me a change that will be a better thing in my life."

Today and tomorrow, we'll feature here some clips from Jeff Liles' own work-in-progress: The Last Record Store, a documentary about Bills that Jeff has been shooting on and off for years. He's been posting clips from it, as well as outtakes, to YouTube, getting feedback from folks about what they like best about the movie, about Bills, about Bill himself. All his movie ever needed was an ending. He has one on Wednesday -- an ending, and a new beginning.

On Wednesday, Jeff will also be contributing to Unfair Park a little essay about Bills -- what it meant and what it means. Those who have been reading Jeff's contributions to the comments section of this blog know what a great writer Jeff is, especially on subjects about which he's passionate. It's safe to say Bill falls into that category.

Here, then, is Elliott Smith's grandfather, Bill Berryman, talking about the late singer-songwriter, who spent some of his childhood in Dallas -- and some of his youth hanging out at Bills.

And here's a little clip of Bill himself, singing a lonesome goodbye in the wee small hours.

See you tomorrow. It's all we have left. --Robert Wilonsky

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