Lillian Sneed, founder of iconic Norwalk Records, dead at 82

NORWALK - Lillian Sneed gave Edie Gonzales her first real job as a sales associate at Norwalk Records. "She hired me on my 19th birthday," Gonzales said. "Now I've been with the family for 28 years -- I'm the store manager."

From hair appointments to trips to the grocery market, Gonzales spent a lot time driving Mrs. Sneed around town.

"Lillian was special. She knew what the customers wanted. She knew all the artists. She was the queen of Norwalk Records."

Lillian Sneed, founder of the iconic Norwalk Records, known for its voluminous collection of pop, R&B, and oldies music, died Christmas Eve after succumbing to complications related to kidney failure. She was 82.

Beloved by aspiring artists, record collectors, and music lovers alike, Sneed is being remembered as a local icon who sold and promoted classic R&B, soul, and oldies even after they fell out of popularity.

"When you walked into the record shop, she had a certain poise that led anyone to just know, that must be the owner," said Melinda Bliss, a former employee at Norwalk Records. "She was also a delight to watch strut along as a Patsy Cline song came on the overhead sound."

Sneed began selling records with her first husband Arthur Walker in 1958. Together they founded Auction City Records on the southwest corner of Studebaker Road and Firestone Boulevard.

Every weekend, the couple would welcome hundreds of people to their music booth inside the grand, outdoor carnival and zoo Auction City, which hosted many local vendors.

As sales began to grow, Walker bought the former Bank of Norwalk building on Front Street and reopened it as a warehouse to house all of the overstock records.

However, when Auction City closed down in 1965, the warehouse became the store's primary location and was renamed Norwalk Records. By 1967, Lillian was remarried to Richard Sneed, a young military veteran who once worked at the shop himself.

"We were married for 45 years," he said on Wednesday. "She was gorgeous, a great wife...and knowledgeable about music. You could hum a tune and she knew what it was."

Through the years, Norwalk Records, located at 12142 Firestone Blvd., slowly evolved. Starting out with an inventory of primarily 45 rpm singles and 33-1/3 rpm long play albums, the store eventually adopted both four track and eight track tapes.

When cassettes arrived in the mid-1970s, they dominated sales for several years until the compact disc arrived in 1985. Today, the shop carries a wide range of Soul, Latin hip hop, Jazz, and Pop hits in mostly CD format.

In 2005, Lillian retired, leaving daily operations to her husband Richard.

"It was a blessing to work for her, she was compassionate and generous and I believe she worried for her employees almost as much as her own children," said Bliss. "If she knew her employee was in need, she was always there to help in anyway she could."

A public memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Cypress followed by a reception at the Norwalk Elks Lodge, located at 13418 Clarkdale Ave.

"It's going to be a hell of a funeral. She's been selling music for 52 years. A lot of people want to come and pay their respects," said Richard Sneed. "Some car clubs will be coming...parking in the lot to reminisce. She had three generations of customers."

Over the last several days, Gonzales says she's been touched hearing story after story of Sneed's generosity and the impact she left on the lives of customers and former employees.

"We've been seeing the cream of the crop of customers stop by," Gonzales said. "Different people with different stories about Lillian. She made the community happy because music brings back memories and makes new memories. "She was so giving and compassionate," Gonzales added. "She will be dearly missed."

Born Jan. 1, 1930, Sneed is survived by her husband Richard Sneed, a son and daughter, William Walker and Diana Jean Conenna, five grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

********** Published: January 3, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 38