Empire Records Shop was located on the edge of “The Strip” at 52nd and Market Streets.
Empire Records was the oldest, continually-operated Philadelphia jazz record shop (1930 to 1970). In an online profile, Bill Morlitz shared his story:
I was born in Camden NJ since my mom’s cousin was head of Obstetrics at West Jersey Hospital on February 1, 1950 and have lived my whole life in Philadelphia and/or its suburbs. My dad had the first jazz record shop in Philadelphia so at an early age, I was immersed in the music business. Maybe that’s why I can’t sing a note on key nor have the 10 years of piano lessons stayed with me. Chopsticks is beyond me.
During my teens, I was fortunate to personally meet many great jazz artists including Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Buckner (who developed the locked wrist rhythm style of piano playing and was Lionel’s pianist), Lionel Hampton and many others. Grover Washington, Jr. worked in the store on the weekends and we used to go listen to jazz sets together. My photography is included on his “Live at the Bijou” album.
In Jimmy Heath’s autobiography “I Walked with Giants,” drummer Roy Haynes recounted:
I met Jimmy around 1946 when I was with Luis Russell and we played the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. A lot of the big bands would come through the Earle. We stayed at the Douglas Hotel, which was in South Philly. That was the hotel where a lot of the big black bands stayed.
The building is still there. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday lived here when she was in town.
The Douglass Hotel, later renamed 1409 Hotel, was not just a place to lay one’s head. The legendary Show Boat was located in the lower level.
After the Show Boat, the space became the Bijou Café. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded live from the Bijou Café in 1977.
The lower level of 1409 Lombard Street was a magical space.
The Bijou Café opened on October 4, 1972. The club was in the former location of the legendary Showboat. The Bijou hosted such jazz greats as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Bill Evans. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded “Live at the Bijou” in May 1977.
In the 1970s and early ‘80s, the Bijou was Philadelphia’s premier showcase for up-and-coming artists, including Barry Manilow, Angela Bofill and U2.
Longtime radio personality T. Morgan recalled:
The jazz lineups were nothing short of spectacular and the comedy was even better! The National Lampoon Show with future superstars John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and Lorraine Newman all appeared together. Another comedy troupe, Firesign Theater also appeared. Billy Crystal was an opening act four times and a headliners three times. His impersonation of Muhammad Ali was a big crowd favorite. Albert Brooks, Richard Pryor, Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld and Dick Gregory all keep the audiences amused.