Leola’s brings music, community for 30 years

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Ciara Watson
CONTRIBUTOR

With the recent passing of Leola McDonald, owner of Leola’s Records and Tapes, it’s not just a loss for the north Omaha community, but a loss for the whole metropolitan area as well. Her innovative mindset to provide not just entertainment, but also community unity in her more than 30 years of business is something that many cannot match.

“She loved serving the community through music,” said Brenda Williams, owner of Classic Reflections Beauty Shop. “Everybody knew who owned and operated Leola’s. She was always determined to keep up with the times by ordering all the young people’s music.”

Leola’s Records and Tapes was a cornerstone in the North Omaha community for 30 years. Selling records, cassettes and CDs was what owner Leola McDonald did, but catering to the needs of her customers was her specialty. By opening the only record store of its kind even before many of us were born, McDonald started a movement of music in the North Omaha community.

Photo Courtesy of Leo Adam Biga
Photo Courtesy of Leo Adam Biga

“I remember when Leola’s Records and Tapes was the only place in North Omaha that you could buy
Leola’s brings music, community for 30 years not just music, but the good kind of music that you can dance to,” said Reggie Kimbrough, a friend of McDonald’s.

In the span of her 30 years in business, McDonald moved her record store twice, always upgrading and expanding into bigger and better spaces to fit her customers’ needs. Her first shop was located on 33rd Street and Parker Avenue. It was across the street from a little corner store called Andie’s ‘n Lily’s, where all of the neighborhood children would go to buy snacks before or after school. Diagonally across the street from the first North Omaha American Legion Post there stood Leola’s Records and Tapes in 1975.

“If she didn’t have it there that day, she would get it to you later that week,” said Tyrone Brown, a former customer. “You didn’t have to know the name of the artist. You didn’t even have to know the type of the music genre you needed. All you had to do was know a couple of words out of the song and she would tell what record you would find it in.”

By the late 1990’s, McDonald moved Leola’s Records and Tapes to where she settled and retired in 2005. On 54th and Ames, professional artist Houston Alexander painted the biggest and brightest sign on the outside walls. Yellow, red, black, blue; all spelling out the phrase Leola’s. In big white letters written on the front of her business was the word HOT. HOT was a recognition of the first radio station in Omaha that was owned by an African American.

Leola’s Records and Tapes was actually how you would image a record store to be. Row-by-row and separated name-by-name with records from the most popular artists of that era like: The Isley Brothers, The Supreme’s, Johnny Cash, and Earth Wind and Fire. Leola’s Records and Tapes in 1975 was the modern day iTunes for North Omaha back then.

“In the beginning she just sold records and cassettes,” said Brown. “Her store was booming in those days. Way before there were iPods, Pandora, or Youtube.”

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