Danny Bessine and Andrea Fritz (Photo by Rich Egger)

Music has changed through the years and so has the way we buy and listen to it, but one thing that’s remained constant is Weird Harold’s. The record shop in downtown Burlington is making plans for a 50th anniversary celebration next month.

The original owner, Danny Bessine, started out selling eight-track tapes and some vinyl. Coincidentally, Bessine says he wasn’t a huge music fan when he opened Weird Harold’s. “Nope, not at all,” Bessine says. “I was just an entrepreneur looking for a business, and I felt that this was a business that we needed in this town.”

Bessine has since retired but still helps out at the store. The current owner, Andrea Fritz, started working at Weird Harold’s in 1994 when she was just a teenager. Fritz says she had the most coveted position and considers herself very lucky.

“I was 16 and I needed a job, and I was hired,” Fritz says, laughing, “and I’ve never left.”

The store has endured the decades and the shift from vinyl to cassettes, then to CDs and MP3s. She credits loyal clients and collectors from around the world, and in-person visitors who marvel at the stock of more than 60,000 records. Weird Harold’s, named for a character in the old “Fat Albert” cartoon, was forced to close for about six weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, but Fritz says she was still coming to the store to fill orders for their eBay store.

“I would see people come to the door and if they wanted something, I’d go get it for them and sell it to them and take it to the door to them,” she says, “and we sold a lot online and kept our correctional facility orders flowing.” Bessine says they’ve been selling music to inmates for close to 30 years, including prisons all around Iowa, Nebraska and other states.

Fritz says there’s a difference between someone who just listens to music and someone who loves music. She says a music listener might hear a song and download it if they like it enough. “But a music lover loves a band, loves an artist, they can tell you everything about it,” Fritz says. “They know all the words to all the songs. They collect everything. They go to the shows. They know the band members. They know the triangle player in the touring band. They know all that.”

The store has diversified, with about one-third of sales in store-based music sales, another third in mail orders, and the final third in music-related items like t-shirts, posters and stickers. Over the years, many musical celebrities have visited the store, including Johnny Cash, Roy Clark and several members of Guns N’ Roses.

The anniversary celebration is scheduled for Saturday, November 19th at the store.

(Rich Egger, Tri States Public Radio)

Radio Iowa