Mary's Record Shop proprietress Mary Mitchell dies

buildings downtown historic obituary

In January 2005, as Mary Mitchell and others watched the demolition of the South Main Street building that once housed Mary's Record Shop, the longtime Greenville resident lamented the loss of a landmark.

"It's part of Greenville's history," she told The Greenville News.

The same could be said of Mitchell, who died Aug. 19, 2009, in Columbia, about two months after her 89th birthday.

As the founder and owner of Mary's Record Shop from 1945 until the record businesses declined sharply in the mid-1970s, Mitchell left her mark on Greenville with vision, charisma and salesmanship. Those elements lured not only music buffs, but the some of the best musicians from around the country.

"She was a wonderful businesswoman, full of heart," said longtime friend Yvonne Scott, who along with husband Cecil operated the O.K. Pawn Shop next door to Mary's Record Shop at 528 S. Main. "She made a person feel welcome. She loved music and knew music."

Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Lionel Hampton and Les Paul, among others, made it a habit to stop by Mary's Record Shop when they came to Greenville.

"It was a great place to grow up," said Billy Mitchell, who later operated Mitchell Stereo in the same building. "Along with the O.K. Pawn Shop, we had an artist row long before the present one.

"It was a gathering place of all that loved music," Mitchell said. "I think Mother knew half the people in Greenville."

More than 50 years after Mary Mitchell started her music shop, the building became a center of controversy in an eminent domain dispute with the city of Greenville.

Mary Mitchell, who didn't play a musical instrument, fell in love with music as a student at Greenville High, and she became a record salesperson at Woolworth's department store in 1940.

She opened her record shop at what Scott calls a "tiny" location about two blocks west of the Main Street Bridge in the early 1940s, and later moved it to 528 S. Main, near the bridge.

At the time, it was the first stereo store in South Carolina and one of the first in the South.

Mitchell died Wednesday at the Rice Home in Columbia after a period of declining health.

She was a longtime member of St. James Episcopal Church. A memorial service celebrating her life will be conducted by the Rev. Robert G. Riegel at The Rice Home on Saturday.

Abe Hardesty