The lights went out on one of Las Vegas' most eclectic—and one of the city's few remaining independently operated—record stores on Friday. Five years after owner Frank DeFrancesco took over the space formerly occupied by Benway Bop!, and later Sound Barrier, at 4800 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite K, he succumbed to financial reality and shuttered his labor of love.
As he and an assortment of friends, volunteer employees and longtime Balcony Lights regulars sift through the few remaining paperback books, vinyl albums and music memorabilia on the shop's final night, the 28-year-old DeFrancesco expresses a mixture of melancholy, bitterness and relief.
"Every friend I have I met through this place," says the bearded, rail-thin Las Vegas native. "It wasn't just the punk kids or the hard-core kids, but kids who were into everything who came here.
"But this town doesn't deserve something like this. Nobody in this town has any kind of loyalty to anything."
Just don't mistake DeFrancesco's cynicism with regret. Despite sinking an initial $40,000 investment, along with what he estimates to be an additional $80,000 over the years, into the business, he says he would do it all over again "in a heartbeat."
"The last year was tough, especially at the end, but it was so worth it for the people I got to meet and the experiences I had," DeFrancesco says. "You couldn't dream it, it was so worth it."
In addition to offering a wide-ranging array of new and used merchandise, the two-level store played host to more than 400 live shows, from the Shins and Dashboard Confessional before they hit it big to DeFrancesco faves Hot Cross and Bleeding Kansas.
By Friday night, all that remains are empty CD and record racks, a few boxes of LPs being offered at no cost to anyone willing to haul them away and a floor littered with such incongruous remnants as a used Sting Soul Cages cassette, a Guy Lombardo Dance in the Moonlight record sleeve and a empty box of Miller High Life.
One longtime DeFrancesco acquaintance stops in to pick up a dust-covered drum set stacked near the back. "His band used to practice here," DeFrancesco says matter-of-factly, as if such accommodations should be expected of any record store worth its salt.
"It's been harder and harder to leave every night," offers Alan Motley, a volunteer Balcony Lights employee for the past two years. "Frank is such a nice guy. He has only good intentions."
But, appropriately at a store known for walls adorned with painted-on platitudes, DeFrancesco began to see the economic writing on the wall as well, sending out floods of e-mails imploring local music fans to buy something—anything—to help him pay his monthly rent.
"For a store our size, it's tough to stock what everyone is looking for. And if they come in and can't find something the first time, they probably won't come back," he says. "Plus, the Internet has been a big draw on a lot of record stores. But even I'm hypocritical ... I'll go online before I go in a store most of the time now anyway. It's a matter of convenience."
As for his own future, DeFrancesco plans to continue doing his "other job," a tutorial services position at CCSN's Henderson campus.
And though his store has gone dark, Balcony Lights' former owner intends to get back into business selling LPs and CDs, at least those he has packed away in an area storage locker, soon to be auctioned off individually and in larger lots on eBay.
"I've got the biggest record collection in Vegas right now," he says, still managing a heartfelt smile at the end of an emotional, final day.