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Jun 3 / Bryan

Local Record Shops Give New Life to Old Vinyl

(A shorter version of this story appears in the Summer 2012 Galewood Gazette “>Summer 2012 Galewood Gazette music issue.)

Most of us love the convenience of MP3s, but vinyl records and CDs offer a more concrete experience, with liner notes and cover art, and much better sound. With iPods and online streaming music, we’ve abandoned the wonderful ritual of listening to music: flipping through a stack of records, selecting one, dusting it off, and dropping the needle. Try sitting down with headphones (or friends) and actively listening to music. If you haven’t tried this lately (or ever!), you’ll be surprised how much better music can sound with a half-decent stereo and your full attention.

Even better, records—especially used records—are often less expensive than MP3s or new CDs. And hunting for records (while supporting local businesses) is as much fun as listening to them.

As major labels and big-box stores struggle, independent record stores and smaller labels are capitalizing on music lovers’ return to vinyl and their demand for old favorites and personal, relevant new music.

My tastes (and thus my favorite shops) lean towards rock and roll, but most of these shops offer a variety of music, and whether you like rock, ranchero, Rachmaninoff, or Roy Acuff, there’s a shop out there catering to your tastes.

Local favorites:

  • Oak Park Records 179 South Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park
    Originally this location was a 2nd Hand Tunes outpost, then part of the Django’s chain, but it’s been independently operated for several years. They stock CDs and vinyl, new and used. Great for new indie rock and used classic rock and new wave records, but they have a little bit of everything.
  • Val’s Halla Records 239 Harrison Street, Oak Park
    In 2006, Val’s moved from their longtime (since 1972!) shop near the Oak Park El station to the ‘arty’ strip of Oak Park along Harrison. Val stocks a great selection of used CDs and vinyl in every genre. In new music, she seems to prefer CDs over vinyl, and specializes in indie rock, adult contemporary, and americana/alt-country, often helping to promote artists that play at Fitzgeralds’ in Berwyn.
  • The Old School Records 7446 Madison St, Forest Park
    This is my favorite shop in the area, the owners are super-friendly and they stock a variety of new and used vinyl. Their used collection (rock, jazz, soul) is well-curated and very reasonably priced. Their new vinyl includes a lot of punk, soul and garage rock re-issues and new indie rock releases. And unlike a lot of shops, they mix new and used together, so you don’t have to search both.
  • Cyklopx 7511 Madison Street, Forest Park
    This place opened a year or two ago across Madison from Old School, It looks great, but whenever I’ve been in the neighborhood, they’ve been closed. They stock new and used vinyl (punk, new wave, indie rock, metal, and a bit of everything else). They also sell a wide range of pop culture ephemera and collectibles. Looks like a fun shop.
  • Rolling Stones 7300 West Irving Park Road, Norridge
    Put on a Rush t-shirt, and relive the glory days of The Thirsty Whale. Before Coconuts and Amazon ruined everything, every record store looked like this. Tucked behind the Harlem-Irving Plaza, this place is plastered with decades of promotional posters and giant cut-outs of rock and roll legends. Sadly, They don’t offer much vinyl or used discs, Even though the shop seems to target the mainstream (and 1987 hair metal) I’m always surprised by the variety of their selection.
  • Chicago Digital 905 S Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
    You’ll find most “used CD stores” offer racks and racks of overpriced Hootie and the Blowfish, Edie Brickell, and Alanis Morissette, but Chicago Digital rises above the usual, with a lot of jazz, classical, blues, rock, and just about everything else. They also sell new CDs.
  • Garage sales and thrift stores
    If you’re super-thrifty, and willing to dig through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff, you can often find records for pennies. I found dozens of 70s Croatian rock 7”s at Unique Thrift a few years ago, and a large collection of Hawaiian music at a recent estate sale.

Other great shops in Chicagoland

  • Logan Hardware (2410 W Fullerton) Wide selection of new and used vinyl, (rock, punk, soul) good prices, and a FREE VIDEO ARCADE in back!
  • 2nd Hand Tunes (800 Dempster, Evanston) I don’t get up there much, but it’s a great shop. get on their facebook list for monthly secret sales at their Ravenswood warehouse!
  • Reckless Records (3 locations) Still one of the best shops around, especially for indie rock, punk, etc. Kind of overwhelming, actually, and the used vinyl comes and goes quickly.
  • Permanent Records (1914 W Chicago) Their new stuff is mostly vinyl and mostly noise/metal/acid/psychedelic, which I happen to like but it’s probably not for everybody. The used vinyl selection is small, but varied and well-curated. Lots of 7” vinyl.
  • Laurie’s Planet of Sound (4639 North Lincoln) An old favorite… a lot of punk, ska, reggae, classic rock, always friendly, and every time I go there I’m looking for something ridiculous I’d never expect to find, and they always have it.
  • Dusty Groove (1120 North Ashland) Not much rock and roll here, but an amazing selection of new and used soul, funk, hip-hop, reggae, African and South American music. If Bootsy Collins made a dancehall record with Os Mutantes, they have it. And four white-label remixes.
  • Jazz Record Mart (27 East Illinois) New and used vinyl and CDs (and 78s!) If you like jazz, you know this place well. My dad has thousands of jazz records and he can’t walk out of this place without ten or twelve more. The staff is helpful and happy to make recommendations.
  • Half-Price Books (various locations)
    I’ll include one mall chainstore, just because most Half-Price Books have a well-curated and fairly-priced used LP section, with a wide variety of genres. Nothing rare, but lots of classic rock, 80s music, and usually some good classical and jazz.
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