“No, I refuse.”
Ric Addy, owner of the iconic Uptown used book and record store Shake Rattle & Read, had just rung up a customer, calculating his total at $80. But because it was Addy’s four-day, 50-percent-off anniversary/retirement sale, Addy told the customer he had to pay just $40.
The customer took a stand at the counter Friday afternoon, loud enough to be heard by the dozen or so customers in line behind him, and the 40 or so people browsing through the stacks.
“I refuse to pay half price,” the man proclaimed, a proud and willing martyr.
Addy balked at first, then expressed his appreciation, and charged the customer $80. The man shook his head sadly as he pulled out a credit card. “I wish you were here forever,” he said.
After 30 years running the store—which has been in his family for a full 50—Addy, 64, is retiring to Florida. His shop will close sometime this spring. While a sale of the store’s inventory and name could follow, its current Uptown location will be no more.
The impending closure and this weekend’s annual sale—1 percent off for each year the store has been in business—brought more customers than the storefront at Lawrence and Broadway could handle.
Some shoppers seemed traumatized by the shop’s impending demise. On Saturday, one reached across the counter to shake Addy’s hand.
“Good to see you, Ric,” he said solemnly, as if reunited with an old friend at a funeral. “Sorry it had to be on these terms.”
But Addy wasn’t mourning. Wearing a cowboy hat and a red button-up shirt embroidered with musical notes and trimmed in white fringe, he stayed jovial as he rang up a seemingly endless stream of customers clutching stacks of vinyl, books, CDs, old magazines, band posters, and random junk, sharing stories of old rock shows and favorite LPs purchased at his store.
He chatted with a middle-aged woman at the register. “Didn’t we see Bowie and the Ramones that night, then have a big party at your house?” he asked. Indeed, she replied, they had. Earlier, he said, a 36-year-old man had called to say he bought his first record at the store at age 6; he wanted Addy to autograph it.
Bill Little, an old friend of Addy’s, observed the long line during a smoke break outside the store. “It almost looks like a real record store in there,” he said, hearkening back to pre-Amazon days, when book readers and music fans had to rely on stores like Shake Rattle & Read for the newest releases. Little met Addy at the store, but now lives in Shanghai; he flew in to help Addy clean out the basement and deal with the sale.
“Where else can you pay under $100 for this kind of shit?”
—Customer Will Farina
Addy called to him just then. A customer wanted a plastic anatomy dummy with guts exposed, like something from a medical school course, sitting high up on a shelf. Little grabbed a ladder and pulled it down, clearly the first person to touch it in years.
“Give that thing a bath when you get home,” Addy advised.
Will Farina, a reedy grad student with round glasses and dark hair past his shoulders, lingered at the counter. He has frequented the store since moving to Chicago five years ago.
“I like things. And I like rituals,” Farina said—rituals like “rabid finger flipping” through record bins and bookshelves. Physical objects like books and records provide “a strange alien wonder” he doesn’t feel with e-books or MP3s. Buying book was more than a purchase of reading material—it was a commitment to “the time you think you have to read the books—to converse with dead people.” And in doing so, Farina said, “you give [the books] life.”
He rattled off his purchases—a haul of Foucault and poetry, plus the new Chvrches LP. “Where else can you pay under $100 for this kind of shit?”
I tried to read a dusty framed letter hanging near the back of the store, but someone reached from behind me and snatched it. (I couldn’t make out the letter, but the envelope affixed to the frame’s back listed “The White House” in regal navy blue font as its return address.)
Later, as I examined a 1998 copy of Weird magazine (top stories: “OJ Simpson: What the hell was he thinking?!” and “Bill Clinton: Pants-free… and proud of it!”), a man already in line reached over, grabbed it, and added it to his pile.
Addy turned the register over to a friend in order to play a set with the Pogo Ponies, his country band of 23 years. They squeezed into the back of the store for an acoustic set, while customers browsed the fiction section around them. (“The jury’s still out on whether or not I like magical realism,” one young man told a friend, holding a paperback copy of 100 Years of Solitude, as the band played. “I honestly just do not know.”)
The white fringe on Addy’s shirt swayed back and forth as he lifted the microphone stand off the floor. “You left my heart a vacant lot,” he sang. “I guess I’ll take another shot / They oughta name a drink after you.”
After the set, Addy returned to the register. The credit card machine went down—overwhelmed, he later surmised, by all the day’s purchases. Friends walked in carrying food, champagne, and a cake. Saturday was also Addy’s 64th birthday.
Still, Addy exhibited no twinge of melancholy. “I’ve put in my time,” he said Sunday night.
Addy says he wants to sell his inventory to a “20-something with the energy” to keep the store alive, but he doesn’t appear too worried about it. The customers seem more nostalgic about keeping Shake Rattle & Read alive than the man who ran the place for three decades.
Lincoln Park resident Sarah Martin visited the store for the first time on a date Saturday, but said she already felt a connection to it.
“I hope he can find a buyer,” she said, “so the treasures aren’t lost.” v