Record Store Day’s organizers originally promoted it as a celebration of the mom-and-pop shops that had survived music retail’s postpiracy nosedive while the likes of Sam Goody and Tower Records collapsed around them. But this international consumer “holiday” turns ten years old on Saturday, April 22, and as early as 2012 the Reader was already asking whether the whole production had jumped the shark. Record Store Day was starting to look like a way to transform brick-and-mortar stores into conduits for labels to feed overpriced limited-edition vinyl to customers willing to stand in line for hours before anybody even powers up the cash registers.
These days, big-name indie chains such as Reckless Records don’t seem to participate in Record Store Day so much as be held hostage by it. Once a shop factors the holiday’s revenue bump into its budget—in 2015, for instance, sales for independent U.S. shops the week of RSD were almost 50 percent higher than the preceding week—it can be difficult to do without. Stores end up resigned to watching freak unsellable releases collect dust in discount-bin purgatory. Anyone who flips through the inventory at one of these unfortunate establishments for long enough will inevitably stumble upon a copy of the unwieldy 2013 reissue of the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, whose four LPs are meant to be played simultaneously. And in 2022 shoppers will surely still be finding the leftovers from one of 2017’s least essential RSD specials: 1,000 copies of the Corey Feldman seven-inch “Go 4 It!” (featuring Snoop Dogg).
Of course, some low-key neighborhood shops celebrate Record Store Day the same way they celebrate every other business day: by flipping a sign over from closed to open. To their owners, the third Saturday in April differs from every other Saturday on the calendar only in that they might get a few extra phone calls or see an unusual number of unfamiliar faces. They don’t necessarily boycott Record Store Day—they might hand out promotional freebies provided by its PR machine or even stock a couple of special RSD releases—but they don’t depend on it. The atmosphere in these shops is more about sharing a communal space with like-minded music lovers and less about showing up with a list of wants from the hundreds-deep RSD special-release catalog and seeing what’s on the shelves.
Of the six shops the Reader visited for this year’s Record Store Day, only one plans to host an in-store performance—Kstarke has booked a couple bands and a slate of DJs to spin records. It’s also the only store to bother with any RSD releases at all—owner Kevin Starke says he typically stocks just 30 or so. For the most part these stores don’t involve themselves with any official Record Store Day promotions. They rely for their lifeblood on loyal neighborhood customers, or on pilgrims happy to cross continents to dig through a northern-soul collection or a stack of rare house singles. Each is an unpretentious salon for eccentrics who want a cozy place to, say, shoot the shit about the Stax house band of the mid-60s.
At record stores such as these, the owners’ personalities feel inextricably woven into the scenery—stepping through the front door of Record Dugout, for example, is a little like walking into the living room of a zealous collector. The shops in this roundup also exist outside the magnetic pull of retail-dense Wicker Park and Lincoln Park. They all have their own long history in Chicago, and though they’re not as well-known outside their neighborhoods as a Reckless or a Permanent or a Dusty Groove, they’re just as much a part of the city’s musical culture.
Photos by ALISON GREEN
Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart
3419 W. Irving Park
Monday-Saturday, 10:30 AM-6:30 PM
Great for: blues and jazz LPs, old 78s so pristine they might never have been played, cheap compilation albums, talking with the owner about classic films
Bob Koester, owner
The reason I went back in is we bought a rather large jazz LP collection. We closed Jazz Record Mart, I think, in January, and bought the collection a couple of months later. I just couldn’t turn it down. For a while we sold stuff in the front room at Delmark Records on Rockwell.
The rent is a lot cheaper than downtown. Ten percent or so of what it would be—more like 8 percent. It’s kind of an overgrown hobby. I was originally gonna be a filmmaker who collected records. Instead I’m a record maker, and I do collect films.
A lot of the stuff we have are collections. What’s the use of buying new ones to sell on a shorter margin than secondhand? I’m working six days now—I’d like to cut it to five. I’m the boss of me right now, and I’m not gonna give me a vacation till I get somebody to replace me. But we’re not quite there yet, in terms of sales.
1109 N. Western
Tuesday-Saturday, noon-7 PM; Sunday, noon-5 PM
Great for: Chicago dance LPs; soul, funk, and hip-hop staples; a cozy listening nook; the owner’s tales of DJing for decades in the local dance scene
Kevin Starke, owner
Every DJ kid is like, “One day I want to have a record store.” I never worked in any record store—I knew zero about this business. Like, I know when I go in, I buy a record, pay the guy, walk out, go home, and play the record. As far as what else to do? I never did anything like this before.
I started selling out of my house a lot. I had so many people buying from me at my house at one time that my next-door neighbor—an ex-cop—he pulled me aside one day, and he’s like, “Hey Kevin, I know we’re friends and everything, and I don’t care what you do in your spare time, but you’re not selling drugs, are you?” And I’m like, “No, man, I swear, I’m selling records—you can come down and look.”
I knew this neighborhood ’cause it was my old stomping grounds, and I saw that it was rapidly changing. I looked in the window—I just liked how it looked. I had saved up my own money; I didn’t get a loan. When we first opened, the records weren’t even alphabetized. “OK, you’re gonna dig.”
I get more people from Europe that know I exist than anywhere else. I’ve had 20-year-olds from France be like, “I can’t believe we’re here,” and they’re taking pictures. They’re like, “Oh, we all know you in France.” Then I get someone, like, “I’ve been living here 20 years—when’d you move here?” They’re two doors over. I’m like, “I’ve been here 11 years! How does a guy from France know me, and you live right next door and you don’t?”
On Record Store Day, Kstarke will be open longer than usual: from 10 AM till 8 PM. The bands Lettucehead and the Wick will perform, and several DJs will spin: Glenna J. Fitch, Alex Gonzalez, Tim Zawada, Shazam Bangles, Mark Grusane, Jesse S Andwich, Jarvis Mason, Jerome Derradji, and Kevin Starke.
Out of the Past Records
4407 W. Madison
Monday-Saturday, 11 AM-6 PM
Great for: R&B, blues, and jazz; piles of eight-tracks and a wall of cassettes; the special pleasure of combing through dusty, barely organized records for hours; a cross-eyed store cat
Marie Henderson, co-owner
Out of the Past has been here since 1986. We basically had ten stores. When we closed the stores down, we needed a spot to put stuff in, so this came available. My husband bought it, and we decided we’d just make this into a major record store. It started small, wound up big—you can’t walk around, full of dust. We’ve been run out by the animals.
I live around the corner from here. I’ve been living in this neighborhood since 1963. My major first store was on Pulaski and Madison in 1966, and then we traveled around. I can’t remember all the stores.
I enjoy it—getting old and forgetful, but I enjoy. I’m glad I got the two guys, ’cause they can remind me of some of the records. This is a record place. If you’re looking for something, you want to come look, and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, this is the place.
6053 W. 63rd
Monday-Thursday, noon-6:30 PM; Saturday-Sunday, noon-4:30 PM
Great for: deep crates of 45s, affordable classic-rock essentials, baseball-card trivia, comics, collectible toys, loud conversations with neighborhood folks
Steve Batinich, owner
I started in the record business in 1989, a little bit east of here at 4220 W. 63rd. Bought this building in 1999. This part of town is more residential, a little bit out of the way. It’s not like I’m in Lincoln Park—we got kids all over the place.
I’ve always done baseball cards and records and eventually branched out with comic books and collectibles. I just enjoy collecting things, junking around—it’s in your blood. I think I’m a little bit different—not that I’m better—but there’s not a lot of places except for Ciba at Logan Hardware where you can ask for your northern-soul 45s, your garage box from the 60s, your doo-wop.
I’ve made some money, a lot of friends, and a few enemies over the years. It’s a dog-eat-dog business, you know.
Fletcher’s 1 Stop
457 E. 75th
Monday-Saturday, 11 AM-6:30 PM
Great for: hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and jazz CDs; cheap DVDs; nostalgic poster-size album art; learning the ins and outs of the wholesale business from the staff
Kenny Lott, buyer
We’ve been in business for 65 years. Mr. Fletcher and his wife started it back in the 50s. I’ve been here 37 years, right out of high school. They wouldn’t let me leave. The neighborhood supports us a lot.
Vinyl was a thing in the 60s and really started going out in the 80s. We were still able to get vinyl with Thriller, even up till Bad. Then cassettes faded out. The record business has its ups and downs. We just went straight CDs and didn’t get back into vinyl, because it increased in price and a lot of people don’t want to pay for it. One guy said, “I saw they’re releasing Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life—can you order me the album?” I said, “Yeah, it’s $45.” Then I go to Reckless and a couple others on the north side, and people were picking it up, swiping them cards, buying that vinyl.
The first year they did Record Store Day, I had a lot of people from the north side come in because they knew about the store and just came by to look. I get quite a few calls still.
Let’s Boogie Records & Tapes
3321 S. Halsted
Monday-Saturday, 11 AM-6 PM; Sunday, noon-3PM
Great for: rock LPs from the 70s and 80s, huge wall cases of cassettes, life-size cutouts of Neil Diamond and Ringo Starr, a good yarn or three from the owner, plenty of elbow room for browsing
Neal S. Keller, owner
Been here 44 years. There was another record store down the block, run by an older woman who didn’t really like kids and definitely didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll. She’d sell a lot of 45s . . . Barry Manilow and Bobby Vinton and Andy Williams, classic stuff like that. And there was some barber shops that used to sell vinyl. But the neighborhood needed a rock ‘n’ roll place. Don’t we all?
I made it through downloads. You guys tried to put me out of business—your age group. If you think about it, you pick the pockets of the bands. That’s why the music was so boring for the last ten years.
I’m not into the hipster lifestyle. I don’t know why people would buy the same album on four colors, you know. “I got the blue one.” OK. I got customers calling me every day looking for a certain color. It ain’t happening. v