You could be forgiven for mistaking Electric Jungle for a gardening shop at first glance. Potted plants fill the windows of the new Rogers Park record store at 1768 W. Greenleaf, which opened without fanfare during the last weekend of July. The storefront is largely unadorned, though there’s a small green sign on the front door with the shop’s name and business hours. It’s open just a fraction of the week: 2-7 PM on Tuesday and Thursday, and noon-7 PM on Friday and Saturday.
Owner John Ciba, who ran Logan Square record store Logan Hardware till it closed in May, says he started working toward opening Electric Jungle this past winter. He stayed mum about the shop’s existence till this summer, when he changed the handle on Logan Hardware’s Instagram account to “electricjunglechicago.” In the meantime he’d been selling some of Logan Hardware’s former inventory at pop-ups in Logan Arcade and the Virgin Hotels, which helped him zero in on what he wanted to do with Electric Jungle. “We’re trying to rephrase record retail,” he says.
The selection at Electric Jungle is noticeably smaller than the vast, imposing stacks at Logan Hardware. Ciba and his three staffers, all of whom worked with him at Logan Hardware, put a constantly changing fraction of their LP stock into rolling wire laundry baskets (Ciba bought 20 of them from a Ukrainian Village Laundromat when it went out of business). Most of the seven-inches sit on a bookshelf tucked away in a corner. If you were systematic about it, you could conceivably look through every single record in the shop in an afternoon.
That rotation of inventory (almost all of it used records) is central to Ciba’s plan to reimagine the record store. “We can change everything out,” he says. “We can have 20 carts out, we can have five carts out. We can have one collection out. We can have one genre, or only 12-inches. It allows us to keep it fresh, and you’re not walking up to the same bin and the same reggae section—or the same jazz section—as you were a week ago.” The fact that only part of Electric Jungle’s stock will be browsable at any given time also makes it easier to spot all the gold. When I stopped by last week, I quickly found an original copy of Jesse Saunders’s 1984 single “On and On,” which is widely regarded as the first house 12-inch.
Electric Jungle also bans cell phones and cameras in the shop. Ciba wants to discourage people from visiting just to post photos on social media—he’d prefer customers who want to buy music. “People who have been through have said it’s kind of like coming in and hanging out in my living room,” he says. “We’re trying to create a feeling that reminds you why you like buying records—and trying to preserve that.”
Ciba gave me permission to take photos for this story, and I can certainly understand the shop’s potential appeal to Instagrammers. Electric Jungle is crowded with Chicago music-history ephemera. On the far side of the wall that separates the shop’s retail space from its offices and storerooms, Ciba has hung framed drawings of a sound system, which he discovered in a record collection he bought from one of Chicago’s first reggae DJs, Barrington Black. Framed flyers from old house and ska shows stand on side tables in the front room. The building that houses Electric Jungle previously served as headquarters for defunct DJ collective Impala Sound Champions. Before that, Chicago graffiti artists used to convene in the basement.
Since Electric Jungle had no grand opening—Ciba has spread the news mainly through Instagram and word of mouth—customer traffic has been at a relaxed pace so far. “We’ve had mostly our friends come through—a couple people who’ve been following us on Instagram and some neighborhood folks,” he says. “We’ve been able to help customers and hang out. I think, with this atmosphere, it works well.”