Credit: <br/>Illustration by Jason Wyatt Frederick

When the pandemic forced Tone Deaf Records to shutter last March, proprietor Tony Assimos began delivering vinyl straight to his customers’ doors. He saw it as a practical response to what he thought would be a short-term crisis, and a way to extend into lockdown the sense of community he’d cultivated in his Portage Park store. As he told Block Club at the time, perhaps optimistically, “People are going to be bored for the next few weeks.” The many forms of pandemic-induced isolation have lasted far longer, of course, but listening to new records is still a good way to stay sane.

Deliveries remain a crucial part of Tone Deaf’s business mix today. Assimos keeps tabs on Chicago’s COVID-19 infection rates and makes decisions accordingly. When the numbers dropped last summer, he suspended delivery and reopened the store; when infections spiked around Thanksgiving, he reversed course, even though the city didn’t issue another lockdown order. “It was the right thing to do,” he says.

Tone Deaf’s customers have embraced vinyl delivery. “It made people feel like they were helping out a business in the community, and at the same time they were getting a special service that they could rely on,” Assimos says. Deliveries peaked last spring, but Tone Deaf currently averages ten per week. Mail-order sales, curbside pickup, and appointment-only in-store shopping have picked up.

With spring coming, Assimos is cautiously hopeful about the future. “Record stores, book stores, all those small little shops down the street that we moved to Chicago to be able to access—let’s keep supporting them!” he says. “We live in a wonderful city with so many great resources. I can’t stress enough the importance of helping local businesses.”