After 39 years and many challenges, World Records faces down a threat far bigger than music downloads: COVID-19

Entertainment

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — One day in early 1982 Scott Schwebel and Pat Evans, 22 and 23 and friends since fourth grade, set out to find a particular record album.

An album by the Greg Kihn Band.

But they kept striking out — none of Bakersfrield’s five record stores had it. Their frustration led to a daring and perhaps unwise idea: Open their own. Engage a passion and make money doing it.

And in June 1982, Evans and Schwebel opened World Records at Columbus and Oswell streets in East Bakersfield. A fantasy realized. 

But then reality hit. Harsh reality.

 Three months later Schwebel was killed in an automobile accident. After four months of uncertainty, Evans decided to press on. It would not be his last challenge.

First, the apparent demise of his single most important stock in trade — the vinyl record album. LPs and cassette tapes were out. CDs were in.

“In the 1980s, record playing fans had the opportunity not to have to clean a record,” he said. “And not have to turn  a record over. And to load five albums at once onto a player. Or 100. Yeah! I want that.”

By the time Evans moved to southwest Bakersfield in 1992, near Stockdale and Coffee, the store was exclusively CDs.

“Yeah, we immediately went in that direction,” he said. “The power of pop culture.”

The store was a success. Evans set up listening stations that allowed customers to preview their music before buying.

But 16 years later, the music business had changed and Evans had tired of the grind. In 2008 he decided to close up. He daughter, then 14, cried.

He reconsidered and instead moved to his third location on G Street. After two years there, he moved to F Street, his fourth location.

“Fourth and final,” Evans said. “Our resting place.”

By this time vinyl records were back. Customers, including young customers, liked the tactile property of a big black disc inside a colorful artistic sleeve. Now he was 50-50, records and CDs.

This fourth store is special however. It’s not just a record store, it’s a concert venue. Behind the racks of vinyl is a 500-seat auditorium where since 2010 some of the great ones in blues, jazz, bluegrass and rock have performed.

Elvin Bishop, Mavis Staples, Son Volt … the list is long.

“It’s an evening where the rest of the world kinda stops and people say it all the time: I don’t feel like I’m in Bakersfield now. You gave me three hours — not that I’m being critical of Bakersfield — where I could be anywhere. Life just kinda stopped,” Evans said.

For 39 years now, Pat Evans has made it work. Changing consumer tastes, evolving consumer technologies.

But now a new challenge. COVID-19. Evans, who has almost always been clean shaven, started growing a beard when his store was shut down in April 2020. Look at him now.

He’s booking shows already into 2022, starting with Cajun bluesman Tab Benoit, but if things don’t change it may not happen. World Records may not happen.

“Worst case is that we will not be able to open,” Evans said, “if the infection level will not continue to diminish. The hope is with the vaccine that the COVID-19 will go away. That’s what makes in person gatherings possible.”

Evans urges the unvaccinated, if they’re still not sure what to do, to see their doctors and talk over the pros and cons.

World Records regular David Coffey says Evans has made contributions to Bakersfield that go beyond providing it with music.

“We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Coffey said.

Is he a treasure Bakersfield will continue to enjoy? Time — and medical science — hold the answer.

Evans has been through some challenges over the past 39 years. The death of his founding partner, the death of the vinyl record, the ascent of the CD, the rebirth of the vinyl record and through it all, all the obstacles most every small business must face. But could COVID-19 be the challenge that finally does him in? Not if he can help it. But then, it’s not completely up to him.

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