Closing Bowie’s

By Candace J. Semien

When East Baton Rouge Mayor President Melvin Kip Holden walked into Bowie’s Record Shop July 10 it wasn’t only for official city business but to say farewell and great job to longtime friend Herman Bowie, shop owner.

“We go way back,” said Bowie of the mayor. “He was a disc jockey and I sold him his 45s.” That was more than two decades ago, Bowie said remembering the younger Holden and many other customers like him who came into the store on that closing day.

Holden presented Bowie, 67, with a key to the city, acknowledging his service to Baton Rouge.

After 37 years of selling music in Scotlandville, Bowie is closing the shop for “many reasons” including the competition of the Internet, the struggling economy, and changes in the music industry.

For decades, record labels would host promotions at local retail shops to draws in sales. Entertainers like the Commodores, Tony Braxton, and Rick James visited the Scotlandville shop promoting their latest album releases—and boosting sales.

Even with the decrease in label promotions, Bowie continued amassing nearly $400,000 in sales annually.

Top sales awards donned the walls of Bowie’s Record Shop where he was recognized by record labels for top sales. “We were super satisfied,” said Bowie, until the rise of Internet music sharing and then the decline in economy. These caused sales to plummet 80 percent, said Bowie. When this year’s first quarter sales were only “fair,” Bowie decided it was time to retire.

“The need for a (music) retail store is lessening,” said Philliper Stewart, director of the Buddy Stewart Music Foundation. “Once the sales have dwindled to a point where it is not really feasible to maintain, a retail (store) ends,” she said.

For Stewart’s father, who owned Buddy Stewart’s Rock Shop, the change resulted in establishing the foundation instead of maintaining the retail store.

“It’s a challenge whenever you lose something you enjoy,” said Bowie. “It’s been great. Just like a regular job, but special.”

Customers and friends from across the parish agreed that Bowie’s was particularly special to the community. “He had to have great customer service,” said Cy Williams, who has owned LaRhythms for 13 years.

“Some would go to this place and that place before coming to Bowie and he would have what they were looking for,” said his wife, Lucille Bowie. “Then he’ll say…”

“Why didn’t you come to me first?,” he said, laughing, and interrupting her.

“Mr. Bowie was always one who if he didn’t have it he would do anything in his power to get it for you,” said Kerwyn Feeling, program director for WTQT 94.9 FM. “He was extremely generous and was more than accommodating.”

“It saddens me to think about his closing,” said Stewart. “His knowledge and the standards that he set in the Black community and in our industry cannot be filled.”

Stewart, whose family owned Buddy Stewart’s Rock Shop for 30 years, said Bowie is a mentor who opened the door for businesses in the community.

She said “the community looked to (Bowie) for information and to keep the community grounded in the art of music itself.”

Bowie has been a staple in the community and “a strong supporter of disc jockeys, radio stations, local, regional and national artist,” said Feeling.

Stewart said she hopes the community “remembers that Bowie opened doors for business in our community, and what we need to do is try to keep that door open…He operated at a standard that the community could be very proud of.”

“Remember that door and continue to support the minority businesses in our community and Mr. Bowie’s work would not definitely be in vain,” Stewart said.

“We wish him well through his retirement years,” said Williams.

Bowie said his awards and remaining inventory will sit in storage for now. He also plans to sale the Scotland Avenue store.

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