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In Sharswood, remembering the music on Ridge Avenue

Bruce Webb, in business for over 40 years, has found a new audience for his vinyl records. He says keeping the store alive is about preserving culture

Bruce Webb, 82, owner of a record store on Ridge Avenue for the last 42 years: He says he gives music advice for a consulting fee.
Bruce Webb, 82, owner of a record store on Ridge Avenue for the last 42 years: He says he gives music advice for a consulting fee.Read moreValerie Russ/Staff

IN ANOTHER time, famous entertainers dropped by Webb's Department Store, a North Philadelphia landmark, to buy vinyl records, CDs and cassette tapes.

It's a plain, white storefront featuring a sign above the door depicting a vinyl record and the word "MUSIC" in large black letters.

"Al Green, the Temptations, Richard Pryor, they've all come here," said Bruce Webb, 82, who has owned the store on Ridge Avenue at 22nd Street for more than four decades.

Inside the store, Webb sat on a metal chair in front of a wall with stacks and stacks of old vinyl LP albums behind him.

"I think I must have about 30,000 albums here," he said.

Webb has sold records at this shop since 1972. Before that, in the '60s, he was a partner in another record store that was across the street where Korman's Discounts is now.

Up and down Ridge Avenue, there are long-gone businesses whose owners have died or moved away from Sharswood.

Among them are six or seven businesses across from Webb's, including the "Meat Mrkt Deli" and "Ahn's Fresh Fish," where signs hang above empty stores like ghosts.

The area is scheduled for a major reboot in a Philadelphia Housing Authority plan to revive the business corridor.

Last month, PHA imploded two towers of the nearby Blumberg Apartments, with a plan to rebuild mixed-income housing and to spruce up Ridge Avenue.

A PHA spokeswoman said the agency wants to work with small businesses that have long been in the community.

But Webb doesn't know if there will be help for the building that houses his store.

"All it needs is a new roof," he said, adding, "I plan to do another 20 years."

Webb, who grew up in the "Black Bottom," now Powelton Village, wears a black beret covering soft white hair. He has a white goatee and walks with a cane. He was still dancing, he said, until "three years ago when my hip went bad."

His years, however, haven't stopped him from a second career as a photographer for "SCOOP USA," a community newspaper.

Webb, who is African-American, said he wants to continue selling old music to a new generation to preserve the culture.

"If we don't watch out, we will lose our culture, and that's something we should be able to celebrate for 100 years," he said.

Faye Anderson, an advocate for historic preservation, agreed. "Cultural heritage represents our collective memory," she said.

At the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference last year, Marion McFadden, HUD's deputy assistant secretary for grant programs, said historic preservation is critical:

"We feel better in a place that's not freshly minted, where history and tradition are evident."

She quoted HUD Secretary Julian Castro who once said, "History . . . is alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from."

Such history is visible all along Ridge Avenue, where a mural depicting historic figures Cecil B. Moore and Pearl Bailey serve as a reminder that the Pearl Theatre once stood on Ridge at 21st, decades before Webb started his music store.

Recently, many of Webb's customers have been young white people who are part of a vinyl renaissance in the music industry.

"The sounds on a pressed album is the best quality," Webb said. "They can download music, or hear it on the radio, but when they hear the same music on vinyl, they tell me, 'Oh, I never heard that before.' "

215-854-5987 @ValerieRussDN