Sally White — who influenced, inspired, amazed and befriended generations of local musicians, music lovers and music wannabes — died this morning at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Norwalk.
For 57 years — first at Melody House on Main Street; then running the music department at Klein’s, a few doors away, and finally as the owner of Sally’s Place — she was one of Westport’s most beloved figures.
In July of 2013, I posted the story below. It drew 57 glowing comments. Her passing will elicit many more.
There is no word yet on services. Whenever and wherever Sally White is laid to rest, I’m sure there will be plenty of great music.
Sally White has been selling music on Main Street since 1956.
Sometime this summer, her song will finally end.
The beloved owner of Sally’s Place — the record/CD store where Keith Richards and Mary Travers shopped (and schmoozed) with Sally, and any other music lovers who wandered up the steps at 190 Main Street — is closing down.
She’s not sure when (probably later this summer). And she has no idea what she’ll do with the hundreds of posters, autographed photos and musical tchotchkes that line the way (maybe sell them?).
She does know, though, that she’ll leave a business she’s loved from her 1st day at Melody House, a few doors away, 57 years ago.
She also knows why she’s closing. The internet dragged too many customers away. The stagnant economy dragged business down further.
Sally’s Place has a niche in Westport that will never be replaced. I walked in this afternoon at the same time as another customer. She wanted a vinyl copy of “Rubber Soul.” Sally promised it would be in by Saturday.
When Melody House closed in the late ’50s, Stanley Klein offered her a job in his department store’s record section. Raising 2 sons alone, she said she could work only 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She also told him how much she needed to be paid. He hired her on the spot.
She worked there for more than 20 years. Her gentle nature, loving presence and encyclopedic knowledge of music influenced generations of Westporters — myself included.
When Klein’s record department closed in 1985, she decided to open her own store. Her brother-in-law wrote a business plan. She showed it to the president of Westport Bank & Trust.
He gave it right back. “We don’t need it,” he said. He trusted her word.
She offered her house as collateral. He refused. He was happy to back Sally’s Place without it.
It’s been an “amazing” 27 years, Sally says. “The bank, the record companies, my landlord — everyone has been fantastic.”
Especially her customers. “They make me feel special,” says Sally. “But I’m just doing what I love.”
Another customer this afternoon asked Sally for a turntable needle. She handed him a phone number. “This is the Needle Doctor,” she said. “He has everything.”
Sally’s musical roots run deep. She’s seen Frank Sinatra on stage. Also Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.
Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan were close friends. So are many customers who never played a note. All are bound by a love of music — and the treasure that is Sally.
“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Sally says. “I’ve been a part of this town for a long time. This is my heart and soul. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
She’s survived as long as she has on special orders. Bluegrass compilations, rap, the “Roar of the Greasepaint” soundtrack — all are hand-written, in old-school logbooks. People find her from around the country.
She does not charge for mailing. “It’s my way of saying thanks,” she says.
As if on cue, a customer requested “old Polish-American polka music” for a wedding. She mentioned a composer. “S-t-u-r-r,” Sally spelled. “Right!” the woman said.
She does not stock Lady Gaga. “You can get that at Walmart for 10 bucks,” she says.
You can get it online, too — along with virtually everything Sally sells. Which is why she has written this message (by hand):
After 27 years of business I have decided to retire. The economy and internet sales have made it impossible for me to continue.
I thank you for your support, and hope you wish me well in retirement. I’ll miss you.
“Quick and easy,” she says. “I don’t need the schmaltz.”
But we need to say “thank you” to Sally White. Please hit “Comments” to share your memories, or offer praise.
And then — whether you’re a longtime admirer, a former customer who faded away, or someone who always meant to stop by but never did — go see Sally.
She’ll be glad to see you.
And her broad, loving smile will make your day.
(Click here to read a previous post about Sally’s Westport Arts Center award.)