“I’ve lived in Logan Square for about 20 years now,” says Marc Ruvolo, cofounder of long-running Chicago indie/punk label Johann’s Face. “There’s no record stores or bookstores around here, which is a pain.”
That’s about to change: not one but two new stores selling books and/or records are opening in the neighborhood this week.
Ruvolo’s responsible for one of them, the “science fiction, fantasy, horror bookstore and vinyl store” Bucket o’ Blood Books and Records, opening on June 4 at 2307 N. Milwaukee. A sci-fi fan since age 12—he published his first story at 16—and a punk rocker since shortly thereafter, Ruvolo has amassed an unwieldy hoard of books, records, and memorabilia over the years, and he’ll be culling it for inventory. “Eventually you look at your collection and you ask yourself, why am I hanging on to this? I’ve got so much cool stuff. Nobody ever sees it, and I just figured the store can be my collection.”
The space is 900 square feet, and he intends to fill it as densely as possible. “I like stores that are really packed tightly with stuff,” he says. He’ll be selling merchandise online too, mostly through Amazon Marketplace—pretty much standard operating procedure nowadays.
Ruvolo guesses vinyl will make up a third of the shop’s stock, and as with the books, the inventory will heavily reflect his own preferences—in this case indie rock, punk, and metal. “I’m hoping that being really specific will make it more of a destination for people,” he says. He’ll also be booking live entertainment—both readings and in-store concerts—and hosting a regular writer’s group.
The store’s bound to attract fans of Chicago punk and alt-rock, thanks to the legacy Johann’s Face has built here. The label’s catalog is packed with locals—from 90s standbys like the Smoking Popes and Apocalypse Hoboken to newer acts like Das Kapital and the Sass Dragons—and Ruvolo will be selling rarities like deadstock vintage T-shirts from some of the older bands.
Ruvolo says he’s not too worried about how many local bookstores and record stores have closed in recent years—among them Hi-Fi, Metal Haven, the South Loop Powell’s, and the entire Dr. Wax chain. He hopes some of Metal Haven’s customers will find Bucket o’ Blood. “I think people can survive if they’re conservative in what they do,” he says. “You set modest goals, rather than me saying, ‘I’m going to open a huge record store in Logan Square.'”
“I have always done things on the fly,” he continues. “It’s kind of that Little Rascals mentality of ‘let’s put on a show’ type of thing.”
To celebrate its opening Bucket o’ Blood is hosting two shows. At 8 PM on Friday, June 4, Ruvolo will read some of his own short fiction and the Rutabega, aka Indiana singer-songwriter Joshua Wayne Hensley, will play an acoustic set; at 7 PM on Saturday, the Sass Dragons, Das Kapital, and Balls Deep will all play unplugged. Everything’s free, including drinks and barbecue.
Carrot Top Records, like Johann’s Face, has put out music by a lot of local indie-rock bands, including Speck Mountain, the Bitter Tears, and of course the Coctails, whose albums were the first it released. But its distribution operation works with labels as far-flung as Ex Records, run by Dutch art-punk collective the Ex, and as varied as Illegal Art (best known for putting out Girl Talk’s records), Flingco Sound System (cofounded by former Kranky honcho Bruce Adams), and Okka Disk (instrumental to the early growth of the Chicago avant-jazz scene). Saki, the retail store Carrot Top is opening this Saturday at 3716 W. Fullerton, will have a stock that’s similarly broad—almost the opposite of Ruvolo’s approach with Bucket o’ Blood.
“We have a couple of amazing tastemakers here who’ve signed these little niche labels,” says Carrot Top general manager Allison Wasilewski, “and their full-time job is to discover new music.”
Saki is one of the upshots of a restructuring Carrot Top underwent three years ago with the help of a consulting group. As a result of the advice it received, the company decided to buy the building that houses its headquarters—which meant it suddenly owned a 1,300-square-foot retail space, vacated by previous tenant Lohan Windows. The shop is also a way for the people who work for Carrot Top to share their passion for music more directly with the rest of us. “I guess we’re going to come out of our dungeon of behind-the-scenes music-industry work,” says Wasilewski. “We mostly spend our time talking to other stores and we don’t get much interaction with customers. It’s kinda fun to do that. We love talking about music with people, and we thought we could be pretty successful with spreading our knowledge to the public.”
The store hopes to attract customers not just with music but with a selection of turntables and music-related books, toys, and tchotchkes, as well as weekend in-stores from local acts, touring groups, and “bands no one’s heard of.” Wasilewski—who’s made Saki her pet project even though she’s moving to Seattle in a couple months—also wants the store to be customer friendly. It’s laid out with generous spaces between the aisles—another point of contrast with Ruvolo’s plan—and she promises the store will be “nice,” not a “noses in the air” place like the fictional Championship Vinyl from High Fidelity. “An unsigned band, if people are looking for it, we’ll go to their MySpace page and try to get hold of them and fill that need.”
In Wasilewski’s view the outlook for music retail isn’t nearly as bleak as many observers seem to think it is—she notes the success of Permanent Records in Ukrainian Village, which she hopes Saki will be compared to. But like Ruvolo, she says it’s not just about the bottom line. “It’s all about sharing the love,” she says. “Nobody makes any money, so you gotta be passionate about it or else it’s pointless.”
For its grand opening Saki is hosting bands and DJs starting at noon both Saturday and Sunday. White Mystery, the Poison Arrows, and Love of Everything play Saturday, and Daniel Knox and Jim Becker play Sunday. In-stores start Tuesday with Sadhu Sadhu and Hollows and continue next weekend with the Astronomer on Saturday and Jon Langford on Sunday. The shop will also display artwork by local artists and musicians, beginning with Steve Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave, whose MCA exhibit of the Secret History of Chicago Music closes Sunday; he says he’ll be hanging “posters, original arts, album cover art and whatever I damn well please.”