NORWALK - Lillian Sneed was a trailblazing entrepreneur who had a love and encyclopedic knowledge of music.
For more than 50 years, Sneed was a fixture on the local music scene, owning and operating an indie music store that would become the iconic Norwalk Records, renowned for its vast selection of R&B and oldies.
Sneed opened the Norwalk Records location in 1965, and it's still housed in the same brick building at 12142 Firestone Blvd.
Ken Menchaca, 57, of Norwalk, said he has shopped at Norwalk Records since 1967, and he appreciated Sneed's vast music knowledge.
"I would hum a few bars to a song and she knew what song it was and would find it in the store," Menchaca said.
Sneed died Christmas Eve from kidney failure, said her husband, Richard Sneed. She was 82.
"It's a big loss, and we are all feeling it," Menchaca said.
Sneed is survived by her husband, her children William Walker and Diana Jean Conenna, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A public service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 5 at the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Cypress.
"Lillian was a trailblazer and an entrepreneur," said William Berkshire, 48, who lived next door to the Sneeds for 47 years and shopped at the store.
Thursday was a sad day at the store as employees, past and present, and customers gathered to share laughs, memories and tears about Sneed, who many people called "the Queen of Norwalk Records."
"Lillian built the business and made it what it is," said store manager Edie Gonzales, 47, who has worked at the store in various positions since 1984.
"Lillian was the face of Norwalk Records. She ran the shop," her husband said. "She worked three generations of customers."
Before Norwalk Records, Sneed ran Auction City Records. She and her first husband, Arthur Walker, opened the store in 1958 at Auction City, an open-air carnival at Studebaker Road and Firestone Boulevard.
Richard Sneed first worked with Lillian and her husband at Auction Records in 1959 but left in 1965 when he joined the military and went to Vietnam. Richard returned after she divorced Walker and together they opened Norwalk Records on Firestone Boulevard.
Norwalk Records started as an inventory of 45 rpm singles and 33-1/3 albums, followed by 8-track tapes and cassettes and eventually CDs. Norwalk Records also sold its music at swap meets. The store sold all genres of music and supported local musicians.
Bruce Soto of the R&B Latin band Soto said he felt the group had hit the big time when Norwalk Records started selling their CDs in 2004.
"For local musicians, it was difficult to get our music in any store, but Lillian was a big supporter of local music," Soto said. "She would carry it."
Norwalk Records found its niche with R&B and oldies.
"This place is iconic," said Johnny Estrada, 50, of Whittier, who has shopped at the store since 1972. "There isn't any other store like this, especially in Chicano culture. ... It is the only place to find the oldies and R&B, which we grew up listening to."
He said that more than 90 percent of his 2,500 albums were purchased at Norwalk Records.
"She had the songs before they were hits on the radio," Estrada said.
But music buyers have turned away from CDs and to MP3s. At its heyday in the '80s and '90s, Norwalk Records employed 22 people. That number has dropped to four.
"I was thinking of closing the store in 2013," Richard Sneed said, "but now I think I'll go as long as I can."