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The Record Bar, Columbia Mall: 1980s   38 comments

Posted at 7:08 pm in Uncategorized

I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

I was just at Columbia Mall, a place I go very seldom nowadays. I couldn't help but be struck by how few of the original stores are still there. There's Sears, Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, and that's about it. (I suppose you could count Macy's since there was continuity with their purchase of Rich's..).

Anyway, The Record Bar was on the top level, right next to J.C. Penny's and above Radio Shack. It was not a large operation and wasn't "indie" the way Sounds Familiar and especially Manifest can be, but it performed its function of providing the current hit LPs & 45s with a comendable depth of back catalog for a chain store with limited space. They also had a constantly changing selection of "cut-outs" from which I bagged many a gem, especially considering my extremely limited finances in those days before I had a job.

They also were generally careful to pull out the "Hot 100" pages from the current week's Billboard magazine, and tack them up over the 45 bin. This was nice because in those pre-internet days, you might never know your favorite group had a new song out if it was still down around #60 and never showed up on the radio.

I don't know their hiring practices -- their staff was definitely not as tatooed and pierced as is the norm at Manifest, but someone there seemed to know a bit about music. I pretty much discovered rock music in 1976 as a result of being introduced to "Endless Summer" by The Beach Boys, and I would always check the Beach Boys section in the LPs. Of course by that time, Brian Wilson was still not living on Earth most days, and the Beach Boys glory days were long gone, so there were years between album releases, and even the back catalog was in sad disarray. I found though, that whenever some interesting Beach Boys artifact was released abroad, it would usually show up at the Record Bar. I remember I had to borrow a dollar from my sister to get a "Brian Wilson Rarities" record with stuff that didn't show up in the states for years.

I'm not sure exactly what happened to The Record Bar. They had two locations in Columbia, I always presumed they were a larger chain, but perhaps I was wrong. At any rate, both the Woodhill Mall and the Columbia Mall locations closed in, I believe, the 1980s. It may have been that they were unprepared for CDs to catch on as quickly as they did. It may have been that that made a good bit on 45 singles and those disappeared. It may have been competition from larger non-mall stores like Peaches, Sounds Familiar and Manifest. It could even have been in-mall competition -- I know that at one time there was a larger CD store on the bottom level near Sears (though my impression is that that came after The Record Bar was already gone). Whatever the reason, they packed up, and their stained glass window and wooden door are now long gone. Currently there's not even a storefront in the spot where they were.

The levee is dry..

Written by ted on August 23rd, 2008

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38 Responses to 'The Record Bar, Columbia Mall: 1980s'

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  1. Anyone remember Meri's Record Shop at the old Richland Mall? All glass and on a "corner" in the mall. It was a tiny place but very visible and always packed with teens. They had a Top 40 rack that of 45s that they updated weekly.


    24 Aug 08 at 6:06 am

  2. Meri's also had a location in the Belk's (now Dillards) on th 2nd floor.

    Record Bar was a NC based chain that also had a location in Dutch Square. The Columbia Mall location lost their lease to a rival chain.

    Eventually, Record Bar was bought out by Blockbuster Video and rebranded as Blockbuster Music before biting the dust. From what I heard, RB had a lot of internal problems on the corporate lrvrl.

    BTW Mall based chain music stores generally had stricter dress dress code policies than "mom's and pop's" like Maifest, so that is why you seldom saw tattooed goths working there.


    24 Aug 08 at 11:10 am

  3. Yes, I remember Meri's both at Richland Mall and in Belks. I still have a couple of LPs from the Belks location.


    24 Aug 08 at 11:53 am

  4. We had Record Bars here in Atlanta, too. They were great alternatives...easy to get to [mall-based] and the folks working there had more than a bit of clue wrt music. Apparently, ours closed before Blockbuster bought them out...not sure why.


    25 Aug 08 at 6:50 am

  5. I think they had a record bar at Richland Fashion mall also. It closed up or changed names pretty quickly.

    MR Bill

    25 Aug 08 at 10:52 am

  6. Record Bar became "Tracks." There was a Tracks in Five Points at the corner of Harden where it goes up the hill to Shandon. I'm not sure if the Dutch Square location was a Tracks or not, but I think so. I know there was also a Tracks in Richland Mall. There was also a Musicland in Columbiana Center. I do not remember if there was one in Columbia Mall or not.


    26 Aug 08 at 1:32 pm

  7. I think there was a Musicland in Cola Mall. It was (perhaps for non-compete clause reasons) about as far away from The Record Bar as it could be and still be in the mall. TRB was upstairs by Penny's and Musicland was downstairs near Sears. After both of those closed, there was a Fryes or something like that downstairs.


    26 Aug 08 at 6:49 pm

  8. I thought Sounds Familiar was in Woodhill Mall. I don't remember a Record Bar.


    27 Aug 08 at 9:14 am

  9. Hmm. I'm pretty sure I remember their storefront with the stained glass and wooden door standing vacant for years after they closed in Woodhill mall. Of course my memory has been proved wrong before!

    I am pretty sure though that Sounds Familiar was not in there -- they were already at their location on the Rosewood extension by the Gill Creek Parkway.

    Now, I also think there was another record store on Garners Ferry, out in that plaza where Big Lots is, but I can't remember what it was called at all.


    27 Aug 08 at 12:15 pm

  10. Sounds Familiar started out in the Garners Ferry shopping center where Big Lots is, moved to Woodhill Mall, then to the Rosewood ext. location. Papa was a rolling stone.

    Musicland at Columbia Mall became a Sam Goody store for a while before closing.


    27 Aug 08 at 8:08 pm

  11. It makes since that there was a tracks in Richland, that must have been the old Record Bar. I remember it now, it was by the foodcourt. I think it became blockbuster music after that.

    I don't remember woodhill having a record bar. I do remember the sounds familiar that was in there.

    Oh and I recall musicland in columbia mall moving closer to JC penny probably about where old navy is now on the first floor.

    MR Bill

    28 Aug 08 at 12:52 pm

  12. I worked at the Columbia Mall Record Bar from Fall 1989 until the spring of 1991 when it closed. I was a junior and senior in high school at the time and it was possibly the best job I could have had at that age. Two words: Employee Discount.

    If not for the kind recommendation of a friend's brother who worked there (and the artist behind the awesome custom store displays), they never likely would've hired me as everyone else was college aged or older. Perhaps my mullet made me endearing and vaguely "rockin'".

    At that point there were 2 local Record Bar stores, one in Dutch Square and one in Columbia Mall. The Dutch Square store was generally considered to have a better location in the mall, but Columbia Mall was the better mall to work in at that time. Our numbers were always very close.

    The stained glass and wooden door had been replaced by a standard wide mall entrance with a gate by then. We prided ourselves on our knowledge and professionalism...

    "I see that you have the new Big Daddy Kane cassette. Did you know that the new EPMD and Eric B. and Rakim both just dropped?"

    "Hmm "Love in an Elevator" -Aerosmith - you know, you should check out the new Stones tape - "Steel Wheels" - I hear they're even going to TOUR! Probably their last tour too...they're pretty old by now".

    Sometime around the time that I got hired, a giant Tracks was built down in Five Points and (unbeknownst to us) corporate decided to rebrand The Record Bar stores as Tracks.

    This made sense as we only had 2 bins of LPs (mostly cutouts) at that point and no 45's at all. Cassette singles anyone? CD's either came in large cardboard boxes or had "theft-proof" plastic holders much like our cassettes did. I cannot remember the industry-specific term for these holders - but there was a word for them and we hated them.

    After Richland Fashion Mall's food court was finished, another shiny new Tracks opened up that had a lovely view of all of the various stuff hanging from the ceiling there. Not a swatch of brown shag carpet or oak shelving anywhere in that store. Black, red and grey carpet - silver shelving and glass! Headed for the 90's!

    At our store we eagerly anticipated moving to a new Tracks store over on the first floor by the center court (by the little place that sold the candles, potpourri and scented oils), next to Belk. The promised land. Our lease on the spot upstairs by Penney's could not run out fast enough.

    Somewhere in the corporate guidelines for Record Bar/Tracks, there was a line that said that no stores could be closer than 5 miles to each other. We found out when the sign over the "new" location changed to say "Coming Soon - Tape World". Then our lease ran out.

    They managed to find jobs for just about all of us. If I remember correctly store manager (and Greenpeace Ireland trip thief) Tony went to either Sounds Familiar or Greenville, or both. Genevieve and Frat-Boy to Dutch Square Tracks. Ted got the Manifest job that all of us wanted. Sly went to Fox Music to teach guitar lessons and shreded there for many years with authority and excellent technique. My benefactor Hal moved to Tracks in Five Points where he once again got me a job a couple of months later when a spot opened up.

    My fondest memories of Columbia Mall are mostly in that dingy old store - I can still taste the fresh-ish cherry lemonade from the taco stand and the cold draft beer from the Hofbrauhaus that my co-workers would violate every store policy (and state law) by having back at the tower while we closed. I can also still smell that brown carpet. All of the Record Bars were gone by 1991, and I don't think Tracks made it to 1995 before they were bought out by Blockbuster. It was a competitive market before Amazon and mp3's.

    Apologies for the extra long post - I found my old dymo-tape name tag in a box when we moved 2 months ago and all of this came back at once in aacid-washed jeans/Bum's Polo wearing blur.

    Now I even miss my '85 Camaro a little.

    Good times.


    28 Aug 08 at 4:31 pm

  13. No apologies necessary. Those are great (and intersting!) memories..


    28 Aug 08 at 5:26 pm

  14. Hi Brian (& Ted!) -

    I remember the Record Bar...yes, easier for me to shop there than Manifest since I looked like mainstream college chick (especially the location in downtown Columbia - moved to Boozer in early 90s.)

    At Record Bar, did you work with Robert Turner & another guy - Reggie something? Robert & Reggie were friends with several of the employees & managers of Litchfield Theaters at Richland Mall in the early 1990s, which is how I met them.

    "Litchfield" is no more - they were bought by Regal right after I left - about summer 1994.

    Thanks for the memories!


    29 Aug 08 at 1:34 am

  15. I liked the Litchfield chain, first because they had the "Tara" cinema which was actually at Litchfield, the only cinema on the south strand and second because they actually closed the screen curtains after the previews and before the feature -- I thought that gave them a touch of class.


    29 Aug 08 at 1:54 am

  16. awesome post about the record bar. Man that really takes me back. I miss the cd long box. I used to decorate my walls with them like they were small posters.

    MR Bill

    29 Aug 08 at 9:41 am

  17. My sister forwarded me this and I can't help but make a few corrections and comments.

    I also worked at the Columbia Mall Record Bar. I worked from November of 85 untill the store closed in 91. Brian is correct in that there where two Record Bars in Columbia at the time. One at Dutch Square, which was store #9, and the one at Columbia Mall, which was store #94. The Tracks in 5 points open around 89 or 90, and was the mack-daddy of it's day. It was the first two story store, which they later regreted because it had no handicap access to the second story, and it was a video rental store. It also got national news coverage when a drunk plowed his car straight trough the Blossom street wall. Hillarious.

    When Richland Mall was getting it's crowd drawing facelift, the district manager convinced the Record Bar higher-up's that Richland Mall was going to be the new latest and greatest, and since the Columbia Mall stores lease was about up they should just close the Columbia Mall store and relocate it to Richland Mall. We where told at the time that no two stores could be within 5 miles of each other, but I later learned that that was mostly bull.

    It was a fun job. I remember having to clean all of the ashtrays, you could smoke anywhere back then, we even had a manager that would smoke while she ran the register. I remember how the back hall smelled of spray paint because we would go back there to work on our displays. I remember all of the promo records and posters we'd get. We would request boxes of poster and flats of the bands we liked under the promise that we'd do a display, and then we'd take them home for our own personal collections. I had so many posters laying flat under my bed that it was as thick as a phone book. When ebay was in it's prime, around 99 to 2001, I sold the vast majority, some for as much as 80 bucks a piece. We got a lot of swag back in those days.

    When the store closed everything was up for grabs, furniture, fixtures, displays, you name it. I grabed one of the large cabinets, a spinning plexi glass button holder, and a plastic RCA nipper dog that sat in the store for years, and a Record Bar sign that was shaped like a candybar with records coming out of it. I still have all of them. I use the cabinet for my DVD's, and the RCA dog is sitting on the top of one of my cabinets. I also got the store safe, which weighed a ton, but I left it behind when I moved years ago because I forgot the freakin' combination. I never did put anything in it.

    Back then there where indie stores everywhere. Sounds Familiar was on Decker, still there, although I don't know how. I think it must be a front for some illegal activity. There was the Sounds Familiar at Woodhill Mall, and Bush River Mall. Peaches, School kids, and Manifest in 5 points,(Manifest later moved to Main st., but it was originally in a little spot where Harpers is now). All of the department stores had record sections in them, and I'm sure there are ones I'm forgetting.

    I remeber the Meri's at Richland Mall, but I was pretty young. I remember they had a Queen News of the World poster hanging in there that scared the crap out of me. That big giant robot holding those poor dead guys. I especially remember it because it was located next to a Hickory Farms and I loved to go in there. They sold gingerbread men that my mother would buy for us if we behaved while she was shopping. There was also a popcorn store across from it that we loved. They sold Icee's.

    Now I'm rambeling. Record Bar was a big chain that covered mostly the south east and southern midwest. The owner sold it originally to a Belgium company, who then in turn sold it to Blockbuster. By that time Best Buy, and the other big box stores, where causing almost everyone to go out of bussines. Best Buy even bought Sam Goodie and all of it's subsidearies, like suncoast, for a time, but they went under too. Then downloading delivered the final nail in the coffin.

    Those days are long gone. Tower Records was the last hold out, but they went under about two years ago. Now CD's are becoming a thing of the past, but they'll always be people like me. People who are collectors. People who actually want something that has value, that holds it's value, that's worth something. A burned CD or a download is worthless. Let's hope that people start actually start wanting something to show for their money again. Something to display. Something physical that they can hold in their hands.

    Hal Reed

    3 Sep 08 at 11:39 pm

  18. Hal, that is a fantastic comment!

    I think I remember that "Nipper" statue!

    The Queen poster was based on a famous magazine cover Kelly Freas did for Astounding Science Fiction

    I had totally forgotten about the popcorn store!

    I still buy CDs, but really that's because I want to have a backup copy for when the harddrive with all my MP3 rips dies.


    4 Sep 08 at 12:11 am

  19. The popcorn place was called Mr. Popper's, and the smell of freshly made caramel corn just about forced you to go in and get something. They had the first Icee machine in town, I think.

    We regularly cruised Hickory Farms because they always had some cheese or summer sausage laid out to sample.


    4 Sep 08 at 7:25 am

  20. All right! Thanks for posting Hal - I am glad your memories of the salad days of Record Bar are a bit clearer than mine.

    Do you remember what we called the plastic security cases that held the tapes (and cd's once the long box bit the dust)?


    8 Sep 08 at 11:11 am

  21. Wasn't there some place called casual corner in woodhill that had stained glass windows? I bet that's why you're thinking there was a record bar in woodhill.

    Mr Bill

    26 Nov 08 at 2:37 pm

  22. Could be, I guess. In my memory, if you came in the back door to the mall by the bookstore, turned right, and walked down the inclined main corridor, the record store would be on your right. I can't recall if it was before or after the left-turn corridor leading to Target (or RichWay I gues it was then) or not.


    26 Nov 08 at 2:41 pm

  23. That sounds right. Hey speaking of woodhill have you done a post for Tapps?

    Mr Bill

    26 Nov 08 at 3:21 pm

  24. Not yet. You can see the downtown building in some of the bus station pix though.


    26 Nov 08 at 4:16 pm

  25. Didn't the stained glass facade in Woodhill belong to "Oh Calcutta"? It was next to the Sounds Familiar and sold all manner of metal shirts and funky jewelry. The couple that owned it were nice. I bought some spider earrings there for a crush of mine, wish I still had those Maiden shirts.


    28 Jan 09 at 11:26 pm

  26. I used to go to here too. I bought a Slayer tape there one time. Also scored a Misfits Earth AD. I forgot all about this place. Trip out.


    28 Jan 09 at 11:40 pm

  27. [...] exposure to The Police - in a music store of all quaint places. I vividly remember browsing through The Record Bar in a Columbia, S.C. mall and seeing the Ghost In The Machine logos everywhere. Must have been [...]

  28. I liked the original Record Bar at Dutch Square since it was the first one there when the mall opened back in 1970. I really dont remember Meri's records though since I didnt live on that side of town, and I used to work at MusicLand at Columbia Mall when it was in front of Sears at that time.


    11 Apr 09 at 11:01 pm

  29. To Hal Reed: Peaches was actually a chain. Because there were a couple in Orlando FL, and one in Tulsa OK, and one in Mobile Alabama

    James Greek

    8 Jul 09 at 8:31 pm

  30. I bought the cassette of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" at the Columbia Mall Record Bar. My mom made me take it back when she heard me blaring "Big Balls" in my room. Thank goodness it had the RB return sticker with the month and date circled. That thing was huge. It took up the whole back of the case. I spent many a hard earned allowance dollar at that location.


    25 May 11 at 4:02 pm

  31. what was the name of the popcorn store that sold the most delicious caramel corn, back in the 60's, at Richland Mall? It was owned by the Mauldin Family--kids went to A.C. Flora H.S.

    robin chapman

    24 Jun 11 at 4:37 pm

  32. Robin,

    That was "Corn Cabin/Karmel Korn/Mr. Popper’s".

    See here for some details.


    24 Jun 11 at 4:45 pm

  33. Pretty much the entire upper level at Cola. Mall is empty and only a shell of it's former self. All the stores that were around the JC Penny area are all gone. Columbia Mall is an am-was Mall, and is gettin' worse and worse with it's "urban" customer based stores.


    12 Feb 12 at 11:52 am

  34. Del, the Site plan tells a different story but last time I waked Columbia Place Mall* before the new year, I felt like I was on a different wavelength than everyone else

    * I am typically a stickler for calling things by their proper names but can't bring myself to call it just Columbia Place for some reason...


    12 Feb 12 at 2:04 pm

  35. I think about half of the upper level was occupied the last time I was there a month or so ago, from Sears to Center Court. And, yeah, it is mostly "Urban Oufitters R Us." Not much from Center Court to the old JCP, though. Didn't venture to the lower level, so I don't know the story on it.


    12 Feb 12 at 5:42 pm

  36. The bottom half of the Mall is like the Bus Terminal at Greyhound or Trailways or whatever it's called now on Gervais, and the other one downtown. The Mall has really gone downhill and then some since the time I worked there from 1985-1993. The Mall had the upper end scale stores at one time like Brittons, Rich's, Penny's, Belk's, MusicLand, Annabell's, BK Lounge, Morrison's, Leisure Time Hobby/Toy Store, the pet store (I cant remember the name), Magnavox (I think), Tiffany's Bakery, Orange Julius, Record Bar, KB Toys, and others.. but those days are long gone, and more and more trouble makers came along. It was always a place for trouble, but more-so now. But from about half way down to the old Penny's store is M-T, closed and/or boarded up.


    12 Feb 12 at 6:47 pm

  37. De & Badgerl, you got me thinking of something. I noticed Shoe department took over the lower level of the former Old Navy Space...but the escalator from when Old Navy was there remains as it was except it was blocked off with something along the lines of 'caution wet floor' janitorial signs and that makes me think twice about shopping there. The upper level is still vacant.

    Columbia Place Mall has more activity than the combined activity of Richland Mall and Dutch Square Center I felt.


    13 Feb 12 at 12:55 am

  38. In the late 80's/early 90's I was buddies with one of the employees at Record Bar in Dutch Square mall - his name was Glenn. Was wondering if anyone knew what happened to him?

    Eventually I got a job at Tracks in Five Points after it became Wherehouse Music - What a fun time! It changed to Blockbuster Music shortly before I was offered a full time job in medical records at Midlands Orthopaedics. I sure miss those days!


    24 Jun 23 at 10:31 pm

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