Storied Cajun Record Shop Is Going Out Of Business

Record shops have been closing across the country in recent years, victims of the digital music revolution. But the closing of Floyd's Record Shop in Ville Platte, La., is different. For 56 years, Floyd's hasn't just sold records, it has helped revitalize Cajun music. Floyd's is closing its doors for good on Christmas Eve.

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Record shops have been closing across the country in recent years, victims of the digital music revolution. But the closing of Floyd's Record Shop in tiny Ville Platte, Louisiana, is different. For 56 years, Floyd's hasn't just sold records, it's helped to revitalize Cajun music. Keith O'Brien has their story.

KEITH O'BRIEN, BYLINE: The old record store on East Main Street is busy once again - after three years of losing money.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good afternoon. Floyd's Record Shop.

O'BRIEN: People are driving from across Louisiana to shop at Floyd's one last time and visit with its namesake, Floyd Soileau, who patrols the aisles of CDs, cassettes, and old 45s every Tuesday through Saturday.

FLOYD SOILEAU: You know we got 40 percent off on all of those CDs today. Did they tell you that? Yeah. Yeah, well, that's good. That's fine. That's great. And if you have cassettes, they're cheap. They're 50 cents.

O'BRIEN: Soileau is 74, balding, with aching knees. He's an icon in Cajun country, a man whose musical worth is almost impossible to measure.

MARK LAYNE: Gosh, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, I would say 12.

O'BRIEN: Mark Layne is the general manager of KVPI radio in Ville Platte. Soileau got his start there as a disc jockey in 1955, soon opened his record store on the side, left the airwaves altogether, and then branched out. A band had recorded some Cajun music. And a local jukebox operator wanted to know: Could Soileau's store produce the record?

SOILEAU: It got me excited, because here I would have a new record that I could sell these people that would be coming in asking for something new in French. So we put this record out. And the word got out that some crazy fool in Ville Platte was making Cajun music again.

O'BRIEN: Like so many other styles, the French songs had been steamrolled by rock. But Floyd Soileau saw an opportunity. And that's when he began producing songs like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BACK DOOR")

O'BRIEN: Locals loved it. And soon music aficionados were driving out of their way to Ville Platte, a town of 7,400 people three hours west of New Orleans, to buy the latest Cajun, swamp pop, or zydeco songs from Floyd's. Lisa Dardeau grew up in Ville Platte and was in the store just about every week.

LISA DARDEAU: Fifty years we've been coming. My first record player was from Floyd's. Most of my records I had, you know, first CD - from Floyd's. I mean we've known Mr. Floyd all our lives.

O'BRIEN: Over time, Soileau built three record labels and recorded such Grammy winners as New Orleans soul queen, Irma Thomas, and zydeco chart-topper Rocking Sidney.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY TOOT TOOT")

ROCKING SIDNEY: (Singing) Don't mess with my toot toot. Don't mess with my toot toot.

O'BRIEN: Flat Town Music, Floyd Soileau's production company, isn't going anywhere, and neither is his mail-order catalog. But the record store has been losing $3,000 a month, Soileau says, leaving him with no choice but to shut it down while he still has fond memories. He thinks in particular about the man who approached him at a Cajun wedding a few years back just to say thanks.

SOILEAU: He said we have all this wonderful music now to play at our weddings. And it made me feel so good, that in some way I did something, you know, that I could look back on. And when I'm feeling down, I remember that line and it makes me feel better.

O'BRIEN: Soileau plans to close the doors of his record shop for the last time on Christmas Eve. He'll bid his employees adieu and go home to celebrate the holiday with his family, listening to homegrown Christmas music, that Louisiana sound that Floyd Soileau helped make famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: For NPR News, I'm Keith O'Brien.

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