Home > JOUR363 > Chicago vinyl record stores survive digital music era

Chicago vinyl record stores survive digital music era

(By Jeremy Mikula, Leah Hendrickson, and Katie Schweiker)

In a world of iPods, Zunes, .mp3s, .wavs, .flacs, .aifs, .rms, .snds and other digital audio formats, 33 1/3 revolutions per minute still counts to some.

Despite Apple’s announcement that the 10 billionth song was downloaded from iTunes in February, many Chicagoans still listen to vinyl Long Play (LP) records from both new and old artists.

“.mp3s were really cool, and they still are,” said Dave Hofer, a new products buyer at Reckless Records’ Wicker Park location.  “You could fit so many of them into a little thing, you know. You don’t have to carry a book of CDs in your car anymore, for example. But there’s just something about vinyl that draws people in.”

Reckless is a music store with three Chicago locations that sells new and used vinyl – LPs, 45s, and 78s – and used DVDs and CDs. In spite of the era of readily available digital media and an economic downturn, they still do a pretty good business, Hofer said.

“We have people who come in and only look for used DVDs and CDs,” Hofer said. “However, if we didn’t have vinyl, we’d go out of business. People come in with their old records because they grow out of stuff and are amazed that people are interested in [their old records]. I have people who come up and ask when we put out new stuff and I always say, ‘All day, every day, dude.’”

New arrivals at Reckless Records

New arrivals at Reckless Records' Wicker Park location (Photo by Jeremy Mikula)

“No CD’s. Never had ’em. Never will.” This sign hangs on the door to Dave’s Records in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. For owner Dave Crain, there is no other alternative to the sound of vinyl records. Dave’s, “will always be a store where vinyl is king,” Crain said.

Dave’s Records is one of the few strictly vinyl shops in Chicago with over 40,000 titles to choose from. When you walk in you are greeted with the sweet, musty aroma of vinyl. The floor tiles beckon you further into the store with their checkered pattern. The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with vinyl. Each record in its spot is watched over by Crain as he sits at a raised counter.

These include new albums by new artists, used albums, imports, reissues and even albums that are out of print and difficult to find. Hand Crain a record and he will throw it on the store’s turntable for a spin to help shopper’s make an educated decision. Dave’s makes sure that if you can’t find what you are looking for in their store, they will send you to another local record store.

Dave's Records

A close-up shot of a rack of vinyl records at Dave's, which has over 40,000 to choose from. (Photo by Katie Schweiker)

Crain said Dave’s is for “people who love records. They are part of the ever evolving and ever revolving world of record shoppers.”

Dusty Groove America is a hub for certain niche music lovers: jazz, soul and funk are what the store specializes in. Customers appreciate the specific target audience compared to other music providers.

“Best Buy is trying to cater to a broad audience,” said Phil Garrison of Chicago while he thumbed through a stack of records. “It’s going to be hard to find obscure items. That’s the main reason why I come to places like this.”

According to Nielsen SoundScan more than 2 million vinyl albums were sold in 2009. That is an increase of 35 percent from 2008.

While record sales are on the rise, CD sales continue to fall. Even though CDs cost nearly half as much as their vinyl counterpart, their sales have dropped 20 percent this year, according to Nielsen. However, vinyl record sales only account for about 1 percent of all album sales.

Statistics show that digital music formats aren’t going away, either.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the digital music industry grew internationally by about 25 percent in 2008, making $3.7 billion. Digital platforms now account for nearly 20 percent of all music sales, a five percent growth from 2007, IFPI said.

One reason for these figures is the ease and portability of things like the iPod, whose numerous models can store anywhere from 500 to 40,000 songs.

“iPods were a crazy new inventions when they came out, but I think the novelty of them is starting to wear off,” Hofer said. “.mp3s and digital music, even CDs, are functional but that’s about it. They’re like decorative buttons on a sport coat. Whereas something like an LP comes down to being able to hold it and having a thing, like buying a book that you really like instead of just reading it on the Kindle. If I were to sum it up in one word, I’d say ‘physicality’ plays a big part in it.”

Reckless Records' Wicker Park location

A view of the inside of Reckless Records' Wicker Park location from the entrance. (Photo by Jeremy Mikula)

But while the idea of having physical media is important to some, comparing things like audio quality and physicality is like comparing apples and oranges.

“Are [records] better? I don’t know,” said Stephen Sowley as he shopped in Reckless’ Wicker Park location. “For me they’re better, but for others .mp3s are better. ‘Better’ is a relevant term, you know? You can’t take a record player with you when you go jogging.”

Audio Slideshow: Chicago: On The Record – shoppers at three Chicago record stores discuss vinyl.

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  1. Sarah
    June 2, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    very interesting, i like the pictures a lot

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