SEACO: Morphing with the music

Longtime shop is moving this month to Bultman Drive

Brooks and Shannan Wilkinson are seen outside SEACO on Main Street. Downtown Sumter will no longer have one of its icons located across from the Sumter County Courthouse on Main Street. On Oct. 31, Brooks Wilkinson will lock the doors on the iconic Main Street music shop for the last time. As the music begins again, this time across town, the 70-year-old Sumter business will have a grand reopening mid-November in its new location on Bultman Drive.
Brooks and Shannan Wilkinson are seen outside SEACO on Main Street. Downtown Sumter will no longer have one of its icons located across from the Sumter County Courthouse on Main Street. On Oct. 31, Brooks Wilkinson will lock the doors on the iconic Main Street music shop for the last time. As the music begins again, this time across town, the 70-year-old Sumter business will have a grand reopening mid-November in its new location on Bultman Drive.
CHRIS MOORE / THE SUMTER ITEM
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"We've seen a lot of stuff." The words come out almost simultaneously from the mouths of Brooks and Shannan Wilkinson as they recount their many years in the music business.

Owners of SEACO music store at 140 N. Main St., the couple has been packing up more than 60 years of memories as they prepare to move to 657 Bultman Drive.

Originally Sumter Electric and Appliance Co., Brooks Wilkinson's parents, Edward and Ruth Wilkinson, and an uncle, Roy Griffin, bought the appliance store from Red Baker in 1954. Baker had opened the company in 1946.

"When they bought it, they sold washing machines and stuff like that," Brooks said.

Eventually, the company's focus switched to music.

A record bar was added in the '50s, Brooks said.

"People would actually sit and listen to records, 45s and then albums as they came into prominence in the '60s," he said. "In the '70s, they added more guitars and amps; in the late '80s, they started doing the (sound system) installs; and in the '90s, they added the lessons and stuff," Brooks said.

He said installing sound systems is still important to SEACO.

"Our bread and butter is installs, a lot of church installs, and lessons, of course," Brooks said.

"Moving is not for the squeamish," he said, standing in the Main Street store already stripped on many of its celebrity-autographed pictures and music memorabilia.

Brooks said he and Shannan don't want to leave, but it is probably for the best.

"Besides being quasi forced into it, it's a business decision, too," he said.

Brooks said they would probably open the new location on Monday.

Main Street just doesn't have the walk-in traffic they need, he said.

For Brooks, a 1976 graduate of Sumter High School, working in his parents' record store during the '70s would be a dream come true for many teens in that era.

"What better place to hang out," Brooks said, grinning.

In addition to working at the store, Brooks learned to fix amplifiers and was a drummer for a local band.

Soon he was spending a lot of time on the road.

"I've been touring all my life doing tech support," Brooks said. "Since we were a music store, we got to actually handle instruments. We were 'BG' - band gear."

As the trucks with audio equipment pull into a concert venue, they would unload the sound gear and set it up.

It was a choice gig, he said.

"If you were (an electrician) over at the (Carolina) Coliseum, it sounds good, but no, you were dragging these four-ought cables, not a good job," he said. "If you were a carpenter, not a good job, you were hauling stages."

Shannan said she got into the music business through catering.

"In the '90s, I got a job working for Matt's Catering, which did all the concerts and stuff like that," she said. "When you are catering you get all-access passes."

"I actually had a drink with Tom Petty and his crew," she said. "They were awesome live, and they were awesome people."

"We have so many autographed pictures, you can see where they were," Brooks said, pointing at faint silhouettes on the walls above.

"They're at the new store," Shannan added.

As operators of a music store, the Wilkinsons were often feted by trade associations and music distributors.

"They would roll out the red carpet for us; they wanted us to buy their gear," Shannan said. "They would get all the famous people, and you would get to go to free concerts just for us to meet them."

Celebrities have made their way into SEACO on Main Street as well.

"Two years ago, Leon Russell came by on a Segway," Brooks said. "Bounced a Segway into the store. He didn't have his top hat on, or he wouldn't have cleared the door."

Brooks said some of his best memories are from growing up in a music store when it was an outlet for concert ticket sales.

"People would line up for shows; we would not let them start lining up till we were closed," he said. "People would line up the night before, they were like tailgating out here."

SEACO was a Capitol (Records) outlet, Brooks said.

"We sold tickets for the last Elvis show here," he said.

He said the first computer he ever saw was installed by the Coliseum for ticket sales.

"No one had ever used a computer," he said.

The technology of the music business is constantly changing, but SEACO has changed with it.

"We just keep reinventing ourselves," Brooks said.

In more recent times, the couple has found several niches in addition to the audio installs.

"I still do sheet music," Shannan said. "I still get teachers and stuff like that. We still get band members looking for the accessories, and we still get school kids coming in."

"We put stuff on eBay because you have to have an online presence now," Brooks added. "We put our noses pretty much anywhere there that we can."

Lessons are another niche for Brooks.

"I teach drums; where else can I make $30 an hour?" he asked. "Nowhere. Playing drums, it's not out there doing manual labor, plus it's fun."

They said love of music is alive and well among young people.

"All of our young students come in, and they want to learn AC/DC songs," Brooks said. "These are 8- and 10-year-old kids; they listen to the stuff we listened to, they are still playing it today," he said. "I think it is from listening to the parents' record collections."