I am not the type of person that necessarily subscribes to “signs” of things happening in the world around them. Drawing conclusions after the fact of what reality presents us usually makes up for what I consider the benefit of hindsight being 20/20. Coincidence, therefore is a byproduct.
However, what if life is as much about the surprises that stun, spoil, excite and surrender us to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves out there? Maybe we call it a higher power. Maybe we call it nature. Maybe we attribute life’s events to a multitude of deity’s. My point is that whether we consider life to be a series of cosmic coincidence, divine intervention, or none of the above; you do you.
I saw Janie’s Record Shop listed as “The Best Record Shop in Texas” by a popular online Vinyl Record Mail Subscription Service that I have a love/hate relationship with. As a customer, this past holiday, it took over 3 months from the time I ordered a record for it to arrive. (Spoiler Alert; Short Soapbox Rant Ahead. Skip to the next paragraph if not your jam) No notification of shipping, despite the payment so easily being collected in October. And, if being honest, the premium charged for the “convenience” of the service feels well over sold and under delivered. The source of the delay was a transition to a new member platform, the company claimed, but all I saw was a widespread PR disaster. The company widely offered a 10% discount on my next order after multiple emails without satisfactory information returned, which doesn’t even really cover much more than tax. I was not amused, though not my first questionable situation with the online retailer. I was once asked to help with a publicized monthly event that this community planned, and was not compensated as discussed (with basically a swag bag) and no returned emails or contact. Yet, because of the nature of the business, I shook off the oversight and continued my subscription. If you really want to read the write up they did in 2019, you can find it here.
Despite my qualms with the mail service company who listed Janie’s, I kept hearing wonderful stories about this actual record store in San Antonio and I arrived to get a first hand account. Surely, I thought, that Texas is a large state with plenty of hidden gems, that in order to top a list one must be extravagant and expansive. What I found in Janie’s Record Shop oddly didn’t sweep me off of my feet at first glance. But, then again, I have never been one to buy into the “love at first sight” doctrine either. I found a rather cozy selection, mainly of 45’s in little to no order of Country and Latin singles. At the helm of the store, sat a kind woman in her 90’s who is the store’s namesake. Buzzing just ahead of the register about the boxes and tables of records and making conversation was Janie’s son, Robert Esparza, who could quite possibly keep a conversation with anyone who walked through the doors. Robert, one of Janie’s 14 children is very personable and knowledgeable on where to dig for specifics if you are looking for one. The Texas Bucket List produced a video piece on Janie’s that I found after my visit that I think does a great job of showcasing the shop and the Esparza family. You can find a link to that video here.
I have learned some tact over the years, and generally can read when to keep to myself as well as directly act to ask for what is on my mind. Because, let’s be real, carrying a boombox around without pretense is both heavy and somewhat concerning for those not “in the know”. On longer trips, I usually reach out to locations to try and give a proper and friendly heads up, but the trip into San Antonio was pretty quick. I perused the shop on a lunch break from other business which I would readily give up a meal for in lew of snacks in the afternoon. As I flipped through stacks of vinyl, I kept an eye around as an otherwise anonymous patron.
What makes Janie’s so different from many other shops is it’s focus on Tejano and South Texas Music on vinyl. As a non native Spanish speaker, my translations of many of the records I saw was limited. But, as I made my selections, I carried my 45’s toward the front, keeping a conversation with Robert going. He began to ring up the pieces, methodically cleaning and covering the batch of tunes. He would pause and ask what I knew about a specific artist or two, advertising that he may also have another track by them that he hadn’t yet put out. I still don’t know if it was an upsell to my list, but seemed like a genuine passion for the medium. Admittedly, many of the records I bought were not songs that I had exposed myself to growing up. I was honest that this was an experience for me to be a student in for a quick lesson, so recommendations were greatly appreciated. And the records that I bought have been solid additions to my collection. I haven’t found anything like them, even in culturally diverse Houston, and that brings a little bit of joy to my heart.
I selected the track “We Are Family” from the band “Babes In Toyland”. I am aware of the Sister Sledge version of the song, but the 90’s music video of this cover is worth the price of admission. Please, do yourself a favor and find it here. The punk rock trio of female performers don’t hold back, just moving swiftly into the music. Punk Rock, much like Tejano, hasn’t always been given the same treatment when it comes to producing music across formats. Finding the rarity of either genre feels like a big score when I do dig through crates. As such, it felt like a fitting accompaniment to our location.
My takeaway from Janie’s, outside of the fact that the shop is family run, which I am sure can have it’s own dynamics with any family, is that the records are purchases that Janie picked starting in 1985. She took ownership of the shop and would buy the vinyl that at the time was being more readily disregarded for the era of cassette tapes. And for 35 years, has been the head of her own business, managing to create a space welcome to anyone willing to take the time to stop in and say hello. The Esparanza’s know no strangers, treat everyone like family and deliver excellent service. So, while I don’t know about coincidence and drawing conclusions about how I would check into the family, I am glad I stopped into this unique and history-rich record shop to do so.
For more information on Janie’s Record Shop, find them online here.