The weekly e-mail newsletters from Permanent Records are a treat for collectors of obscure and out-there rock records—particularly if you’re eager to find out which new arrivals pique the interest of the knowledgable and enthusiastic staff. But yesterday morning co-owner Lance Barresi sent a sad message to the store’s e-mail list: Permanent Records will close its Chicago shop in September. Barresi and co-owner Liz Tooley launched Permanent Records in its Ukrainian Village storefront in October 2006, and they’ve slowly expanded the store’s cultural footprint since. In 2007 they launched an in-house label, which has released stellar records from noisy contemporary bands (Cacaw, Running) and archival recordings of forgotten local acts (the Chicago Triangle, Bad Axe, VCSR). In summer 2011 Barresi and Tooley decamped to LA to open a second Permanent location, and they’ve since set up two additional LA stores. This summer, things came to a head for the Chicago outlet. “It’s very difficult to run a business from afar,” Barresi says.
The decision to close the Chicago store wasn’t easy. Barresi says he and Tooley began considering it around three years ago. When they moved, they’d intended to come back to Chicago every month, but that proved more difficult as Permanent grew in LA. “Things just ramped up here so quickly that I was just out of time to go back there, and I was missing out on opportunities here when I was going back,” Barresi says. He and Tooley tabled the discussion till the time came to renew their lease. “‘We like being there, let’s cross that bridge when our lease comes up.'” Earlier this year they decided to extend their lease till till the end of September, and its last day in business will be Sunday, September 17.
The Permanent team is still mapping out the Chicago shop’s final weeks, and obviously their plans could change. Permanent Chicago’s two full-time employees—Robert Manis, who founded Moniker Records in 2010, and manager Dave McCune—will continue to work at the remaining Permanent locations in California. (“They were both pretty jazzed to move to LA,” Barresi says.) The worst-case scenario for the end of the Chicago store, according to Barresi, would be packing up its whole inventory and moving it to LA. Permanent can still sell those records, but moving thousands of LPs more than 2,000 miles would be a huge hassle—and no doubt nerve-wracking, considering Permanent’s proclivity for selling rare and out-of-print records.
But as Barresi made clear in his announcement, the owners are open to selling the inventory to a buyer who wants to open a new shop in Permanent’s Ukrainian Village storefront. It’s all a matter of finding the right person with the funds to do it. “I already have a half-dozen emails of different parties wanting to discuss a buyout—I don’t know how serious these all are,” Barresi says. He plans to set up talks with legitimate bidders.
So what will the store’s closing, and particularly the departure of McCune and Manis, mean to the local community? They’re more eager than most folks to go to bat for aggressively strange records and share that affection with the uninitiated—they won’t be easy for Chicago to replace. Manis in particular has a well-documented history (especially via his Moniker label) of rediscovering midwestern musicians who’ve been lost to time and helping give their music new life. The 2009 release . . . For the Whole World to See by Detroit protopunks Death came out on Drag City with Manis’s help, and it launched a new chapter in the band’s career more than 30 years after their initial breakup. What will Manis’s move to LA mean for Moniker?
“As far as the label, the headquarters are gonna remain in Chicago,” Manis says. Co-owner Jordan Reyes, who joined Moniker in 2015, currently lives south of Minneapolis, but plans to move back to Chicago by the end of the year. Manis sees the move as a growth opportunity for Moniker—specifically to get the label’s releases into more shops on the west coast and to meet new bands and prospective signees. “I feel like it’ll spread the label and the music to a wider audience,” Manis says. For now at least, Moniker remains strongly midwestern: on Friday it releases the cassette EP The Usual by local “witch punk” trio Lil Tits, and it just signed Minneapolis punk band Royal Brat, who play Fed Up Fest on Saturday, July 29.
For Manis, who moved to Chicago from Oklahoma in 2000, the move is a big deal. “It’s emotional because I’ve lived here for so long. I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I know a lot of people here,” he says. “Starting over again—it’s bittersweet, because I’m really excited about what LA has to offer, what the west coast has to offer. And with the shop out there, it’s growing—it’s exciting to be a part of a team that’s expanding a lot.” Leaving Chicago, whose DIY community Manis knows, cares about, and even reveres, will be tough. “Chicago’s been my home for 17 years,” he says. “I’ll miss it greatly.”