by Lucy Nalen
Barksdale Haggins, owner of a gospel record shop in Jackson Ward, has been going by the nickname “Barky” for most of his 86 years. Today, this revered senior citizen and anchor of the community is known as Mister Barky. The man himself is dapper and fit: The name suits him.
In business since 1956 in the same Broad Street location, Mr. Barky has seen a lot of history parade past his door–the civil rights movement, anti-war protests at VCU, the decline of Jackson Ward in the 1970s, the demise of downtown shopping, the drug wars of the 1990s, the comeback of today.
“Things have changed tremendously,” Barky said with a shake of his head, remembering.
Through it all, Barky’s Spiritual Store has been an oasis of music and positive energy.
His shop, which sold jazz and R&B records until the 1980s (“pop music got to be so distasteful,” he sighs), is today devoted entirely to gospel. One thing led to another–choir robes, Bibles, hymnals, rosaries, altar pieces, and religious supplies for churches all over Richmond. This has left Barky’s in a happily divided state: Records and cassettes fill half the store; hymnals and ecclesiastical garb dominate the other.
A few years ago he created a promotional giveaway to advertise Barky’s to the community–a plastic fan, suitable for fanning yourself in church on a hot Sunday morning.
On one side of the fan, he listed every church in Richmond that patronizes his store. It was a very long list: 152 names. As he handed me one as a gift, 86-year-old Mr. Barky beamed with pride–part survivor, part teenage boy.