Dan Bryan holds a bearded dragon at Bryan’s Records and Pet Center in Columbus. His parents, Wayne and Betty Bryan, in the background, plan to close the longtime family business. Photo by: Luisa Porter
January 18, 2012 1:44:00 PM
The sign on the door says closed, but the door opens regularly, a massive ring of keys dangling from the keyhole.
Customers enter and chat easily with the store's owners. They exchange handshakes.
In the distance, an exotic bird caws. The pungent aroma of pet food permeates the air.
Plastic cases on CDs rattle as prospective buyers shuffle them on and off the shelves.
Ra, the Irish setter who helps manage the front office, greets visitors with an upraised left paw -- a high five.
Wayne and Betty Bryan are closing the family business. Bryan's Records and Pet Center at 2003 Main St. is an eclectic collection of pets, pet supplies, albums, cassettes and CDs.
Wayne has worked since age 6 at the store his father founded. Richard Bryan was operating a radio repair business downtown when he decided to buy Dot's Records in 1945, across the street from The Princess Theater on Fifth Street South in Columbus.
Richard told Wayne's mother, Clara, that he bought the store for her to run. Clara loved people, music and dancing.
Richard stayed busy at both stores. "He got a lot of tickets for parking," Wayne said, from running between the two businesses.
Eventually, Richard consolidated the businesses.
It moved through different buildings downtown. One stop was next to Mississippi University for Women.
The students provided a steady stream of business.
"We knew when there was a good cotton year right off," Wayne said.
The amount of money students spent on records was directly related to the profits their families made from cotton.
One day, a fellow brought a record into the store and asked the Bryans to help sell copies. The artist was a Mississippi boy named Elvis Presley.
"It didn't sell," he said of the 78 rpm record by the man who came to be known as The King of Rock and Roll.
Along the way, Richard took an interest in fish.
"We got into the fish business. We got out of the radio repair business," Wayne said.
From there, the business expanded to pets.
The store's shelves sag under bags of specially mixed dog and cat food. Full-size aquariums are arranged at odd angles to fit into the showroom.
A book rack features helpful tomes titled "Fish Diseases: A Complete Introduction" and "Enjoy your Mollies."
The piranhas were popular until the state of Mississippi outlawed them.
"They look like a silver dollar with teeth," Wayne said. He met the train in Tuscaloosa, Ala. to get piranhas shipped from Florida.
"People get excited at the thought of feeding meat to a fish," Betty said.
Over the years, the store sold hedgehogs.
One of the challenges, Wayne said, was to avoid selling animals that people tried to sell him off the street.
A man came in one day urgently trying to sell Wayne some monkeys. Upon further investigation, Wayne noticed the man was missing two fingers that the male monkey had made into an hors d'oeuvre.
And then there were the snakes, one species of reptile the Bryans stocked.
Selling concert tickets for the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo was a natural extension of the music side of the business, Betty said.
The store once featured a distinctive sign of a dog holding a record. A man driving through town came upon the unusual sign and a woman camped out at 5 a.m. waiting for concert tickets, Wayne said.
He asked her what she was doing.
"On Saturdays, you have to get here early to get the best snakes," she responded.
The last chapter
"I've been really putting this off," Wayne said.
Their sons, Dan and Allen, don't plan to carry on the business. Dan, who is working on a master's degree, is allergic to pets. Allen is finishing his medical degree.
Wayne teaches history and anything else the folks at East Mississippi Community College in Mayhew ask him to, he said. He returned to the classroom after he left teaching to run the family business. Betty, who retired after 42 years teaching music in public schools, teaches music classes at EMCC.
"We're getting just a tad old, and we're going to slow down a little bit," she said.
She will miss the personal relationships with the customers.
What has set Bryan's apart is the personal service, Betty said. They care about customers and regularly make special orders to get customers what they want.
Often, a customer has come in with a few words of a song or hummed the melody and asked them to help find the song. And they did.
Warrenetta Love, an employee for 23 years, is a musical encyclopedia, Betty said, with a specialty in Southern gospel.
But before the Bryans lock the doors on this part of their history, Wayne has a goal to sell one specific item.
"I've had that thing over 30 years," he said as he pointed to a carpeted train locomotive that is a cat climbing toy.
After a few years, he moved the engine to the house; his sons quickly adopted it and played with it as they grew up.
Once they were out of the house, the engine chugged back to the store. Wayne said he and Dan were at odds over that piece of stock.
"He said, 'You can't sell my train.' I said, 'Yes I can.' But I was wrong."
And so the train sits among aquarium kits in a back corner of the store.
Wayne and Betty resisted attempts to pin them down on an official closing date. They are considering the end of the month -- just as soon as the reptiles and birds find good homes.
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