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Reminiscing about old Baltimore record stores

The records that turn up in the vintage vinyl shops were once new, sealed in cellophane and sold in Baltimore’s department stores and specialty shops. One of the largest old Baltimore record merchants was Ben Glass, the father of composer Philip Glass. His store at 222 W. Baltimore St., opposite what was then called the Civic Center, was open daily until 9 p.m. Serious disc collectors stood over the bins of vinyl that Glass stocked at his General Radio Record Shop.

The Radio Center on Greenmount Avenue in the center of the Waverly business district had a back-list of rock 'n' roll classics and unknown stuff, too. Outside, projecting over the sidewalk, an over-sized metal likeness of an RCA Victor record was edged by a neon Nipper — the terrier listening to “His Master’s Voice.” Baltimore had another Nipper — on Russell Street. The large replica of the dog listening to the phonograph horn sat atop an RCA wholesale appliance store. This terrier is now at the Maryland Historical Society.

The Fred Walker music store on Howard Street had a bank of listening chambers where music fans spent their Saturdays auditioning records. African-American record buyers shopped at record retailers along Pennsylvania Avenue and on Gay Street. The Modern Music House, Hammann’s and the Music Mart also filled the music landscape.

When the E. J. Korvette discount chain came to Baltimore in the 1960s, the music scene changed. Korvette’s was a discounter and offered weekly sales. The store’s discs carried alphabetically coded price tags. Frank Sinatra’s bins emptied when Korvette’s cut his records by 50 cents.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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