Jerry’s Records: What goes around, comes around

by Zach Brendza

Andy McKee and The Hawkeyes greet you at the door. Show posters line the walls of the steps. Watch out for the boxes of records on the landing —free to any kind of home, but you must take them all.

No picking.

After climbing a steep, narrow set of stairs, customers reach the promised land of vinyl: Jerry’s Records. 13,000 square feet of the Beatles to Beethoven, Journey to the Jackson 5. Metallica to Miles Davis. All compiled throughout its almost 40-year existence by the man who drops the needle, Jerry Weber.

“My idea: buy ‘em fair, move ‘em fair,” Jerry says.

Jerry’s boasts a plethora of different musical styles and offers obscure records. Photo by Alyssa Kramer

Jerry’s boasts a plethora of different musical styles and offers obscure records.
Photo by Alyssa Kramer

His inventory, now estimated at over a million pieces, is situated at the two-story 2136 Murray Avenue store. Jerry’s Records began its life fairly inauspiciously, as a combined record collection between Jerry and fellow mailman Jimmy Petruzzi. The collection, mischievously titled The Record Graveyard, found its home above a friend’s bar in Oakland. The Graveyard remained there until 1994, when there was no longer enough room for the copious volume of vinyl.

“The reason my store is eclectic and the reason I have so many things that people don’t have is because I like everything,” Jerry says. “I don’t think anyone in the whole world knows more about different kinds of music than me.”

This knowledge, and his mania for collecting, has moved Jerry from Oakland, where he would buy houses neighboring his own and fill them with records, to a multi-business building in Squirrel Hill.

Now, though, Jerry lives in Aspinwall in a sectioned-off portion of a warehouse. The warehouse is twice the size of his store and holds the stock that wouldn’t fit in Jerry’s Records — he literally sleeps with vinyl.Why?

“Because I’ve been working with it [vinyl] for 40 years, but I’ve been lovin’ it for 60 years,” Weber says from his store counter, covered in stacks of records and Crazy Mocha coffee cups.

Customers come to Jerry’s locally, from surrounding states and even abroad.

Patrons come from China, Canada, Australia and all over Europe, according to Fran, an employee who previously worked at the famed National Record Mart.

Fran, a 72-year-old retiree who has worked at Jerry’s for 11 years, organizes the classical section, as classical music is his favorite genre at the moment.

“I don’t think there’s a another classical section like this in the country,” Fran says, “and pretty well organized, I might add.”

A couple from Chicago enters the section and he is quick to assist them. It is, after all, his

favorite part of the part-time job.

“Can I help you find anything?” he asks.

After a brief conversation about the couple’s trip to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where they saw a performance of Mozart’s 24th, they leave as quickly and quietly as they came in.

Customer Alex Kleim selects a record at Jerry’s. Photo by Alyssa Kramer

Customer Alex Kleim selects a record at Jerry’s.
Photo by Alyssa Kramer

Customers come and go, but some make more of an impression that others. Former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant stopped by and bought a portable record player and quite a few Jack Jones Records. Dianna Agron of the popular show Glee “had a ball” during her two days at Jerry’s and left with a huge box of records each day. And even musicians who have left the ‘Burgh come back for Jerry’s massive collection; Taylor Allderdice grad Mac Miller brought his MTV2 show “Mac Miller and The Most Dope Family” to Jerry’s for the Mac Miller Goes Home episode.

But these pilgrimages wouldn’t be possible without private auctions, run monthly, to keep the music mecca afloat.

“The money from the auctions pays the rent and the bills and the utilities. And I can sell a lot of nice records to guys like you for five bucks,” Weber says.

The two auctions, Psych Rock and Jazz Funk, are held each month in four-week periods through a mailing list and on Jerry’s website, his “only concession to the Internet.”

Using a sliding bid scale, customers place a minimum and maximum bid, vying for imprints, vinyl in mint condition and truly rare records. Put up at least eight bucks and you can groove along to James Brown or Kool and The Gang, or wager on Black Sabbath and Frank Zappa releases and rock on with a winning bid.

“I’ve been doing them for 27 years, they’re private. Nothing at all like the Internet and certainly nothing like eBay,” Jerry says. “In other words, I run them.”

Jerry buys records every day, and some are used for the auctions, while others are put up for sale. Others, however, are sought out, usually when a known collector passes away.

Whistlin’ Willie Weber, Jerry’s son, runs Whistlin’ Willie’s 78 Shop, located within Jerry’s, but he also is the scavenger for out-of-Pittsburgh record buys, taking the shop’s white Ford one-ton van around the tri-state area in search of new music. In one haul, Willie can bring back 6,000 records.

Willie goes out on buys on an average of two to three buys a month, and remembers one particular trip to Zainesville, Oh., where a hoarder kept around 10,000 CDs, 3,000 78s and 1,000 records, hid behind boxes, cat litter and even dead cats.

“It was probably one of the dirtiest, nastiest deals we ever did,” Willie says. “We got a lot of good stuff out of it. It was just hard.”

Jerry’s Records has been open for nearly 40 years. Jerry himself is 65, and expects the store to remain open for at least two more years.

“After 30 years, you tend to get burned out,” Jerry says. But for now, Jerry’s spins on, offering nearly any record anyone could ever want.