Inside the new Shuga Records

The stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Ashland and Wolcott in Wicker Park is set to welcome two record stores this year. The Reckless Records at 1532 N. Milwaukee is moving south to a larger space at 1379 N. Milwaukee; the new location’s official opening date is still being determined. The other store setting up in the neighborhood, Shuga Records, is opening its shop at at 1272 N. Milwaukee; Shuga CEO Adam Rosen plans to pull the curtain back February 21. Rosen gave me a tour of the store’s new home last month as the staff worked to get the space up and running.

The new shop had been outfitted with custom-built record shelves when Rosen gave me the lay of the land. A portion of the 100,000 LPs the store sells online will be available for browsing in the 2,000-square-foot space. The rest of Shuga’s catalog will remain slightly within reach in the back of the shop; every piece of used vinyl will be listed on a digital database, which customers will be able to search on a couple iPads available in the store. The staff has been diligently cleaning, bagging, and cataloging each LP in the digital system as Shuga prepares to officially open its doors.

The new location is the end of a long hunt for Rosen. “We couldn’t find a place,” he says. “We moved the whole company on the west side almost three years ago, and from that point that was gonna be the warehouse office and we were gonna get a smaller retail, like 1,000-1,500 square feet on this block and we couldn’t find it.” Shuga first opened in Minneapolis, and Rosen picked up and moved it to Chicago after nearly a decade in service. Since 2012 the store’s been operating out of a spot at 4115 W. Ogden Ave. But Rosen’s had his eye on setting up a retail location somewhere on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park since he moved Shuga’s headquarters to town.

The store’s new location and it’s close proximity to Dusty Groove and the future home of Reckless is just where Rosen hoped to land. “We wanted to be by all the other record stores, so it makes it a destination,” he says. “It’s like stupid-proof to get here—the el, right off the airplane you can get here, if you’re downtown, getting on the Blue Line to be here is cake.”

Rosen sees Shuga as more of a complement to Dusty Groove and Reckless than a strict competitor. “Reckless will always have this thing with their thing with new vinyl that we’ll just never compete with—the new vinyl we will stock will be vinyl they don’t stock because its more obscure,” he says. “It’ll really just be if you can’t find it at Dusty, you can go to Reckless, if you can’t find it at Reckless you can come here.”

Shuga will sell more than just vinyl. Rosen says the store should have around 5,000 CDs available for purchase within six months of the shop’s opening. Shuga will also stock the basics for maintaining and growing a record collection: record players, amps, adapters, and sleeves. But vinyl is still key for Shuga. The genres available to browse in the retail portion of the store include the usual suspects (rock and pop, soul and funk, jazz) and smaller collections of folk, country, classical, exotica, and soundtrack LPs, among others. Shuga’s new release section will also highlight records from Chicago and Minneapolis artists.

Rosen says he found the new location within the first four months of 2014, but his team didn’t actually start moving in and fixing the place up till the end of October. Red tape has made the process slower than Rosen anticipated, but the amenable landlord has made it easier for him to build the store out. Rosen’s keen on investing in personal flourishes that can make a record store unique. He’s setting up a DJ booth at the front of the store and he hired graffiti artist Nice One to add gritty, imaginative designs to the walls; Nice One snuck filtered-in bits of the Chicago flag and the city’s skyline among his plump designs and house-shaped characters.

Shuga’s staff includes three full-time employees and one part-time employee, but Rosen plans to hire more as the store opens and grows; he hopes to have ten employees on staff by the end of the year. But that’s further down the line—for now Rosen is just eager to finally open Shuga’s doors to the public.