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My parents, Salome and Diamantina Gutierrez, opened Del Bravo Record Shop on San Antonio’s West Side when I was just a kid. One of my earliest memories was of hiding behind the counter and reaching underneath to grab customers’ feet, startling them, and getting scolded by my mother. I got such a kick out of it.
But, of course, all my best memories here revolve around music.
Musicians my father worked with — like Valerio Longoria, and Santiago and Flaco Jimenez — would come by all the time to hang out in the shop and record in my dad’s studio. I remember my dad would leave for his construction job early in the morning, then come tend to the shop and record in the studio late into the night. Then he’d wake up early and do it all over again.
Now that I help run the store, I see how much work it is and I’m amazed by how my parents did it back when my seven siblings and I were young. Now I recognize the saying that behind every great man is a strong woman. My father was successful in music, writing and producing so many songs for big names in conjunto and Tejano, even winning several Tejano Music Awards and being inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame. And my mother, though she never liked being interviewed, was right there beside him all along. Her strength gave us all strength, and I always looked to her as a role model.
As I grew older, I also came to appreciate the shop more. Having access to all that music exposed me to all different genres and expanded my understanding of melody, rhythm and the emotions music can evoke. I eventually worked with distributors to source our music and got to know record label catalogs like the back of my hand.
The distributors started shutting down, but I still source records any way I can. Sometimes that means tracking down musicians and reaching out on Facebook. And I listen to every vinyl record, CD, and cassette we sell to make sure it’s in good condition. After all these years, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and can usually help customers find what they’re looking for, even if singing a line from a song or humming a melody is all the information they can give me.
I’m especially fond of our older customers who come in looking for music that reminds them of a different time. I’ll help them flip through records if they can’t read the small print well, play the records for them and sometimes even dance with them. You can see the memories flooding back when they hear the music.
There’s always a story behind the music, a connection people have to a song or an artist. Music reminds people of high school dances, first loves, bad breakups, wild adventures, weddings, travels, and lost loved ones. And it’s such a privilege to hear our customers tell these stories.
People who come by the shop always tell me that I have such a fun job, and I do. My days are filled with music, dancing, and lively conversation. I get to talk to all kinds of people and hear their stories. And I get to continue the legacy my parents started.