San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 15th, 2012
Sundance Records eulogized as symbol of a bygone San Marcos


Area media have been busy lamenting the imminent closure of Sundance Records, the downtown San Marcos institution that sold LPs then cassettes then compact discs to three and a half decades of college students before surrendering to the advent of digitized music.

The store, located in the Nelson Center at 202 University Drive, will close its doors April 1.

Sundance Records has announced it is closing April 1. Manager Greg Ellis, alongside employees Walter Little and Erica Meier, take care of customers on March 5 during the store's last month of operation. UNIVERSITY STAR PHOTO by ERIN DYER. USED WITH PERMISSION

Universally laudatory articles mourn the store’s passing on dual counts — as the death of a symbol of San Marcos’ quirky uniqueness and as a symbol of a music industry transformed by technology.

“The freshmen in college right now, they were six years old in 1999 when Napster emerged. Their entire life where they’ve been aware of music, the idea of paying for music has just been alien to them,” manager Greg Ellis told the San Marcos Daily Record’s Jeff Walker.

Store founders Bobby and Nancy Barnard have known for years that Sundance’s days are numbered, Bobby Barnard told the Record. The store opened in 1972 on the square and moved a decade later to its current location a few blocks closer to what was then Southwest Texas State University. For at least 10 years, the walls have been closing in, little by little.

“It’s been a struggle for record stores, really, over the last decade. Each year it’s like there’s a little poison we have to take to get through every year. It’s a sad thing, for sure,” he said.

A piece by Jordan Gass-Poore in the University Star retells how Barnard, 14 years old in 1968, convinced a bellboy to tell him which room Jimi Hendrix was occupying in a Dallas hotel. He and a group of friends knocked on the hotel room door and were invited inside by a jovial Hendrix, who made small talk and sent them away with autographs and souvenirs.

The matchbook Barnard says Hendrix gave him that night is on display at the music store along with other memorabilia arranged in a shrine to the guitar-playing genius.

Ellis, who became the store’s first fulltime employee in 1984, summed up the cultural significance of Sundance’s closing — and the nagging fear of many a San Marcos old-timer — in his interview with the Star.

“The town is changing. Not much ol’ weird SM left,” he said.

Meanwhile, San Antonio Express-News columnist Roy Bragg sees Sundance Record’s closing as evidence of a more global, yet equally troubling, trend.

Recounting with sepia-tinted nostalgia an eight mile trek he made on foot in 1969 to buy an album by The Who, Bragg writes,

When the eclectic Sundance bites the dust after 35 years — 25 of them in the same location, across the street from the Texas State University campus — it won’t be the day the music died. It will, however, be the day that music, as a way of life for some, got the wind knocked out of it and had to take a knee. …

Finally, when I was able to buy “Tommy” with my accumulated lawn-mowing revenue, I made the four-mile walk home and locked myself in my room for weeks, tickled pink and listening.

And with Sundance shutting down, there will be one less destination for music diehards.

‘No one will remember the day,’ Ellis says, ‘they clicked iTunes for a song.’

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23 thoughts on “Sundance Records eulogized as symbol of a bygone San Marcos

  1. My daughter and I were teary eyed a couple of weeks ago when we read of the closing in the Record. We visited one last time last Saturday and took photos and bought some discs and shirts. Bobby told us that a guy called him from California wanting to know if it was true, and the man then started sobbing on the phone.

    This is really a sad time in San Marcos with so many empty buildings downtown, Rob Robinson’s passing, and even in Austin…we’ve lost Leslie.

    I agree with Ted, my daughter collects vinyl and purchased almost all of it from Sundance, and I have many friends who do the same, but don’t live in town. We were sure to grab a brochure from Sundance about where to buy vinyl in Austin before we left 🙁 I hope that one day soon downtown begins to thrive again, it is in a depressing state at the moment with many San Marcos Institutions closing their doors and new businesses leaving in the blink of an eye.

  2. The readers are nailing it!!! I’d like to see rebates for locally owned businesses vs. large outside MNC’s. This is the final nail in the downtown coffin. The downtown is dying, businesses are leaving, and even the county offices are gone. A dollar circulates around San Marcos seven times when spent at a local business.

    RIP Sundance. We frequent there at least twice a week and i’ve been going there since a freshman at SWT when lived at WRT

    Thank you to Sundance for being so pet friendly all these years!! Our girls look fwd to our trips to Sundance!

    Has anyone also noticed the micro eateries are closing down one by one. i guess if they were a food chain they would be getting rebates. Or, if they were giving contracts to City Council members they would be getting nice plaquards at the State of the City Address.

    Looking fwd to election time, because that is the only time each year we hear about the downtown. What exactly does the person who is on the payroll for the downtown do anyway?

    Thanks Brad for including the URLs for the other articles as archival how important this small business is to our community.


  3. I was going to write about how many of the changes brought on by our new digital age have not been good, such as the death of many record and book stores in the past few years, but then Melisa’s post touched a nerve.

    The end of Sundance Records has little to do with the health of San Marcos’ economy or Downtown, and everything to do with the changes in the music industry. The prime customer base for Sundance from the day it opened in 1972 on has always been College students. What has changed is the way that demographic gets it’s new music.

    To be blunt, when I read the line “I hope one day soon downtown begins to thrive again” and thought, what the heck are you talking about? Downtown San Marcos is thriving, and with the exception of the recently vacated County buildings there are probably fewer empty building in Downtown that any anytime in years.

    And yes we have lost an icon way before his time with the death of Rob Robinson. But the possible ending of that institution, and Rob’s wife says she is going to try to keep the Hill Country Humidor going, has nothing to do with the health of Downtown and everything to do with the fact that us Baby Boomers are all getting older. I have a mother who is in her 90s, and try getting her started on the insitutions of her younger days that are now gone.

    Anyway, those who know me know I have been involved in my own way with the revitalization of Downtown since the mid 90s when half the buildings downtown were empty, so I get a little defensive on the subject, sorry for the rant.

  4. I used to walk from my parents shop down to Sundance for a tape, then later a CD, almost every week with a post-Sundance Salvation at Alvin Ord’s. Once I got in high school and could drive, I would listen to my new CD while campus was still open for lunch. Good times, but record stores have been trading on nostalgic stories like mine for a while. Most popular music focuses on the hit single to drive digital single sales and exposure which can be canned into commercial dollars, so fewer full records are worth the $16 asked at most small record stores. Unless you have a live enough local music scene to allow stores to trade on the rare, then the music industry as a whole isn’t doing a record store any favors. Sundance had some new life when they were able to sell remixes for a while from localish DJs but that seemed to wane.

    As for those who will use any opportunity to push a political agenda, this has nothing to do with the downtown. I continued to support Sundance on occasion, but I cannot voice any support to subsidize efforts to push against the inevitability of creative destruction. Good run Bobby — I’ll miss you guys and the experience.

  5. I didn’t say anything about downtown, and I am not pushing an agenda. Vinyl is making a resurgence, new and used. There is no disputing that. If the market shifted, and the store did not, perhaps that contributed to their demise, but to pin it on downloads, free or otherwise, is to completely misunderstand the music market today.

    I can only assume that you Larry and John did not read the link I posted, much less Google vinyl resurgence.

  6. It is, however, quite possible that our city can’t support a record store, for the same reason it doesn’t seem to support a lot of high-end housing, the quantity of higher end restaurants New Braunfels enjoys, etc., for the reason I cited – the economy in San Marcos.

  7. I too used to frequent Sundance records. I have purchased many a CD – both new and used – there. But when I got access to iTunes I stopped buying CDs. I suspect that the problem for Sundance is that too many others did as I have done.

    It has nothing to do with downtown and nothing to do with the San Marcos economy. I understand Ted’s point that vinyl is having a mini revival – but not among college students. The way people get music has changed……it’s sad but we used to say the same thing about the milkman or the paperboy. The world has just changed.

  8. @ted, since you didnt mention downtown and pride yourself on being agenda-free, I wasn’t responding to you. I guess the owner and manager didn’t read your link either as they too seem to not have your level of understanding about the music biz. Or maybe vinyl represented only 5% or so of their revenue such that modest growth in that sector couldn’t make up for evaporating revenue elsewhere. I don’t know, just wanting to wish them well.

  9. I also wish them well, and was simply pointing out that the market for vinyl may have shifted to a customer that does not exist in San Marcos.

  10. Many a record and CD purchased at both locations. Bobby turned me on to Terry Allen. First Bruce Cockburn was purchased there,and many others. Very sad to see Sundance go.

    Music is now like it was in the 50s, singles. Downloaded. Or gotten for free. The industry has changed.

    However the fidelity of those downloads, due to compression, are not as good as the real thing. For those of us who have collected music for many decades, this may spell the beginning of the end.

    As for downtown SM, last time I went to the Square I mentioned to my spouse the number of now vacant buildings.

  11. Wasn’t the original location attached to a laudrymat? I remember wandering back and forth between the two rooms back in college…

  12. Just started looking over what I’ve listened to over the last few days before I refile the CDs and records.

    Lone Justice, The Civil Wars, Los Lobos, Marianne Faithfull, The Decemberists, Peter Gabriel, Mental as Anything, Nat King Cole, Judy Henske, Sky, Robin Trower, Tinariwen, Olatunji, to name a few. That’s not a list one could find at Hastings.

    May have to play Phoenix by Wishbone Ash.

  13. Loved the old sundance. Now, its a head shop. Nothing against the 420, but i dont want my kids to see rows of tacky bongs while we look for an old van zandt vinyl. Non big box merch will fail in san marcos. Love the city but to make money in San Marcos you need to sell beer, beans/wings, tattoos, or zig-zags.

  14. oh give me a break. sundance is a cool place and its too bad that its closing. its also too bad that a business model from the 70’s can’t work today. big bad technology is not to blame. neither is the boogie man future. there are businesses in town that continue to thrive becasue they continue to adapt with the lifestyle of their customers. if you’re upset things aren’t the same as they were 35 years ago, you’re not a business man. you’re a nostalgic music snob with an over priced personal collection.

  15. Independent music stores are closing all over the nation. I doubt that all of those have failed to adapt.

    As for music snob, not hardly, my collection covers a little bit of everything. And it is hardly over price, it’s worth every cent I’ve paid for it. If you doubt that, price a Judys’s record, or a vintage Yma Sumac.

  16. I am an overpriced music snob. That was my point. How many of us do you expect to find, in a city where the vast majority of the workforce is employed part time? We don’t have problems with residential properties becoming overstuffed rentals because the Rockefellers are here, and they would rather hoard their money, than live alone. People here are poor.

    Maybe there was no market here to adapt to.

    Maybe there is no market anywhere, but I’m not completely convinced of that. I have no problem finding other collectors, I just don’t find them here.

    Again, just making conversation. I hate to see anything special about San Marcos go away, and I hate to think of what it must be like to shut down a business you have operated for decades.

  17. Darn sure didn’t help. Oh for the good ole days with Wuest as the anchor tenant.

    All things age, some more gracefully than others. It did outlive Springtown. In that respect, it could be argued that Sundance means more to SM than Target.

  18. Got to say goodbye to Bobby & Nancy and just listened to Judy Henske”s version of I Know You Rider.

    RIP Sundance.

    W/O this store, the soundtrack of my life would not have been the same.

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