A gigantic, abstract Miles Davis watches over patrons grazing through racks of new and vintage vinyl. Customers look through tightly packed CDs in wire racks that include albums from the Pixies, Bob Dylan, Radiohead and Al Green. Overhead, the speakers play Neon Indian's "Polish Girl." Customers sip lattes and eat J-Bird and Evil Twin sandwiches while others lounge on oversized, leather couches reading the latest Rolling Stone magazines.
T-Bones Record Shop and Cafe in Hattiesburg may be Mississippi's last operating independent record store, selling both new and used vinyl and CDs.
"It's bittersweet," Harry Crumpler III, one of the owners, said. "I'd love to see a record store come back to Jackson, particularly after Be-Bop closed. While I grew up around Hattiesburg, when I went to Jackson, I went to Be-Bop. T-Bones serves Hattiesburg like Be-Bop served Jackson."
Crumpler, 31, and his father bought T-Bones in 2002. The business started as a record label and store in the late 1990s. Former owner Tim Ramenofsky moved to California after successfully marketing Hattiesburg rapper Afroman. The Crumplers bought the building and transformed the former studio into a "dream come true."
Over the past 10 years, Crumpler transformed T-Bones Record Shop into more than a record store, providing a full-service cafe including sandwiches, salads, desserts and coffee from Athens, Ga., supplier Jittery Joe's. Exhibits of local artists' work are on display and available for purchase. During January, T-Bones showcases Mr. Witch's "Cursed Canvases" collection, which includes commission work, comic book, vintage and abstract-inspired pieces.
"Every member of our crew is important to the utmost at making sure there's good customer service, that you get a good-tasting sandwich, your coffee tastes right and that you get the music you're looking for," Crumpler said.
"The most important people that help make T-Bone's run on a day-to-day basis are our customers. We wouldn't be here without our awesome patrons keeping us stocked with good folks coming in."
Store manager, Jackson native and overall music guru Mik Davis, 42, has an acute knowledge of regional music, stemming in part from his own musical endeavors over the past 28 years, including touring and recording with his former band, Seven Tongues Spoke.
"I hold on to this romantic notion that we're some of the last vestiges of good, solid consumer customer service," Davis said. "When you come into our record shop, you're dealing with nine people who really want to serve you. Nine times out of 10, we know customers by name, and they know us by name. It's a real testament that we don't wear any nametags."
T-Bone's is also a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, or CIMS, a group of music businesses that have earned a reputation for their contributing to their communities and participating in the music industry. CIMS only recognizes 45 record stores in the nation.
Davis said he is excited about the opportunities T-Bones now has. "With the CIMS designation, we're part of a larger collective, so we've been able to receive more product at a (lower) price and also push the limits of what music stores normally have," he said.
In many ways, T-Bones has become the hub of Hattiesburg's music and culture scene, not only housing the latest music merchandise but also hosting live concerts, comedy shows and poetry readings. Members of the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers frequent the store to perform poetry. Hattiesburg's stand-up group Hub City Comedy has hosted two events at T-Bones since August. The bands Gashcat and Members of Morphine have recently played there, and Blue Mountain is scheduled to perform Jan. 20.
"T-Bones has come a long way in the nine years that we've had it, from rolling with the cafe to expanding the vinyl and now carrying turntables," Crumpler said.
"The future holds a mixture of many things, including adding a breakfast menu, expanding space, delving into books and diversifying the record selection even further. We want to have what you are looking for and when you are looking for it. We want to be a shop where you can come and spend the day."