Bernie Rabinowitz, 60, founded chain of record stores

January 23, 2003|By Kimball Payne | Kimball Payne,SUN STAFF

Bernie Rabinowitz, who channeled a love for music into a business as the founder and longtime owner of the Music Liberated stores, died Tuesday night after his car crashed on the Jones Falls Expressway near Ruxton. The Randallstown resident was 60.

Mr. Rabinowitz was driving home from his downtown store on West Saratoga Street, which he had operated for more than 30 years. It was the last of a chain of six stores he had opened over the years in the Baltimore area.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Park Circle area on Springhill Road, where his family operated a grocery store, Joseph Bernard Rabinowitz was a 1960 graduate of Forest Park High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Baltimore in 1965, and attended its law school for two years.

During the mid-1960s, Mr. Rabinowitz and his late brother, Jacob L. "Jerry" Rabinowitz, opened a small record shop in the rear of the Bedlam clothing boutique on Charles Street.

Larry Jeter, a customer and one-time employee who now owns his own store, Dimensions in Music, recalled buying his first album from Bernie Rabinowitz in the small back room. "He always had a passion for music," said Mr. Jeter.

Mr. Rabinowitz soon found there was more interest in the music for sale in the back than the clothing in the front, and in the late 1960s opened the first Music Liberated store on Charles Street, said Mr. Rabinowitz's wife of 25 years, the former Deborah Snyder.

Over the next two decades, he had as many as six branches including stores in Mondawmin Mall, on Light Street in Federal Hill, and in Towson.

His eclectic musical tastes developed along with his downtown store. As its urban landscape grew and changed, so did the music he held in stock as he increased his focus on rap, dance, R&B and jazz. The store became a source for hard-to-find vinyl and CDs, according to music enthusiasts.

"He kept up with the latest," Mrs. Rabinowitz said. "He was always bringing home [recordings by] new artists and getting excited about them. He didn't pride himself on being on the cutting edge. He just was."

His store and musical tastes found their way into the fabric of the culture of Baltimore. Mr. Rabinowitz was a childhood friend of Allan Mason, a music supervisor in the movie and television industry who has worked on films by Baltimore-born Barry Levinson and found in Mr. Rabinowitz a "music brother."

"Music was a foundation for Bernie and a lot of the Diner guys," said Mr. Mason. During a friendship that spanned more than 30 years, they continually exchanged musical ideas, song titles and obscure LPs.

The store was also used as the backdrop for the record shop scene in John Waters' movie Hairspray.

In a field increasingly dominated by chains and megastores, colleagues described Mr. Rabinowitz as a throwback. Clad in jeans and a T-shirt, Mr. Rabinowitz could be found at his store six days a week and often for up to 10 hours a day. "He was a music fan, just like me," Mr. Mason said.

"His store and his family," Mrs. Rabinowitz said, "those two things encompassed his life."

The couple met in the spring of 1976 in Music Liberated, where she was trying to get him to stock some bicentennial memorabilia. They married the next summer.

A nephew, Ari Mackler of Los Angeles, remembers attending concerts in Baltimore with his uncle. The type of music and venue never mattered, he said. "You couldn't walk 10 feet without somebody shouting out his name and coming up and giving him a hug."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Rabinowitz is survived by two sons, Evan, 22, a senior at the University of Maryland, and Cary, 19, a sophomore at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y.; his mother, Anne Rabinowitz of Pikesville; a sister, Sheila Jacobs of Beachwood, Ohio; and nieces and nephews.

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