Val's halla Records struggles to stay afloat

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Val's halla Records in Oak Park isn't technically a historic landmark, but it might as well be.

And although its owner, Val Camilletti, would modestly refute the title others have bestowed upon her, she too has become a legend as the owner of a 40-year-old independent record shop that has almost as much personality as she does.

But with the holiday shopping season here, the immediate challenge is to keep Val's halla open at all as dwindling business and a considerable pile of nagging bills pose an imminent threat to survival. Supporters are rallying. A fundraiser is set for next week. If the immediate crisis is surmounted, a mid-term plan to keep Val's halla sustainable will be crafted by Val and her supporters.

It's no secret, especially to Camilletti, that the digital-era of music has overshadowed both vinyl and the bricks-and-mortar music shopping experience. While vinyl is getting new life among the younger crowds, a trend that has Camilletti excited, Val's has to face the fate many small businesses can't avoid: a stack of continuous bills.

Sue and Jim Gill, an Oak Park couple with deep musical connections and a strong sense of Val's place in the village's psyche, are heading the fundraising effort. They'll host a house party next Thursday, Dec. 13 in their Oak Park home to start the bill-denting process. The price of admission to the "Help Val Keep the Lights On" event is $100 and RSVPs are essential for planning (see box).

Those who are unable to attend the party but still wish to donate -- in any amount -- can go to a secure website to chip in to the effort (see box).

Plans to reinvigorate the legendary Oak Park Arts District store are already underway. Expanding the use of the store's small performance space and creating a new way to sell merchandise online will come in the new year. But first the effort is designed to keep the doors open (preferably with the lights on) through the critical holiday season.

Camilletti will be the first to tell you she doesn't want to pressure others, especially those in the already struggling arts community, to feel an obligation to help her shop. But friends and patrons have stepped up and told her she's got something worth keeping.

"Friends have said you have the support here and we'll prove it to you," she said. If this is true and Val's can eliminate its debt, a small increase in revenues will keep the store profitable, she says. Camilletti said she wants to continue fundraising and in turn help her small arts business neighbors.

Still, some have asked the 72-year-old Val why she wants to keep going; others have posed the concept of retirement.

"I'm not sure how to spell that word," she said. "[The shop] is so much a part of my identity. I don't know how to describe it any other way. It is even now more than ever."

Even in dim times, her passion is too strong to fade, and seeing resurgence for the industry has kept her hopeful that better days are ahead.

"I haven't been this excited for a long time. ...The idea of not doing this does not appeal to me at all," she said. "There is absolutely no reason for me to move away from this. It's a kick to talk about music."

But as any music aficionado will tell you, it's not just about the tunes. She wants to turn Val's into a destination hot spot for cultural discussions and a venue where local musicians can have their voice heard.

"We don't just talk about music," Camilletti said. "We talk about everything. It's not just about what's getting bought and sold. … I'm interested in anything. It's everything. That's part of the real joy."

The situation is far from ideal at the moment as Camilletti has a lot on her plate. But the support has given her confidence that others believe in the mission of the shop. She said they understand that it's more than just a music store, rather its part of Oak Park

"It feels absolutely incredible. It has reenergized that sense of support," she said. "I am just really touched by this effort. I'm anxious to share this vision. I think we can do it."

Her biggest cheerleaders in this effort, the Gill's, understand Camilletti's commitment to the community and they're ready to do what it takes to make Oak Park understand it too.

Jim Gill, a well-known musician himself, said the purpose of the benefit is twofold. Besides keeping the shop open, it's also about honoring Val. The thought of the shop disappearing was one he and his wife couldn't stomach.

"The store is more than a store for her," he said. "It really embodies all she knows about music. Val's is a place where music is more than bought and sold. …I don't think the community is ready to give that up."

Jim's first experience with the store was 16 years ago when they moved to Oak Park. Once Val knew he was a fellow resident she did what she's done with many local artists and put his music on her shelves.

"From the moment I wandered in I fell in love with that place," he said. "You can't separate falling in love with the place with falling in love with Val."

For several decades Val's halla was situated in a tiny shop (connected to a slightly larger tiny shop) on South Boulevard across the street from the Oak Park Avenue Green Line stop. When a planned redevelopment claimed that location, Val's halla moved six years ago to 239 Harrison St. in the midst of the Arts District.

As a self-proclaimed "unique musical landscape," Val's also has been a spot for local artists to get their start, many of whom have traveled back after they made a name for themselves. Honoring smaller musicians has always been a point of pride at Val's and one Jim thinks can't be found elsewhere.

Jim's love for her and the store may be the never ending font of musical knowledge Camilletti possesses, that she can answer nearly any question about music someone asks, even if it's far from her favorite artist or genre. He said he was once looking for an obscure folk group from the 1960s he'd heard on the radio and he barely got out part of the name and she was already finding the album in the store.

"It's like a little community in there. It gets to be this whole thing," he said. "Try and do that at Best Buy. People who work there aren't invested in it. … Val can't wait until she gets to the store. She loves when someone comes in with a question about music. That's why you need a store like that. She is more than just the thing that's being bought and sold. Her knowledge is unlike anything about any topic."

Val, of course, does not perceive her role as a local legend. "I guess you get old, you get famous," she joked while sitting in her store last week. "It just never really penetrated that that meant anything. It's not part of my nature to think in those terms."

For Jim Gill, though, Val is a legend who has contributed endlessly, with unwavering generosity to the community. And all music aside, that generosity of spirit is what the Gill's house party is honoring Val for.

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

39 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Lisa W from Wheaton  

Posted: December 29th, 2012 9:40 AM

Val, I grew up in Oak Park, just a few blocks from your store, and i remember when you opened! My brother and I bought several albums from you back in the day. My 18 year old daughter recently became interested in my old vinyls, and we got her a turntable for her birthday. We'll be making the trek to Oak Park to add to her collection! Thanks for the memories!

Shayne from Berwyn  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 2:38 PM

There's no need for anyone to trade barbs, whether it's for us or against. There is truth to both sides of the argument, but I want reemphasize that this is about recovering from long-standing debt so that we can increase stock and implement changes to take advantage of current positive trends.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 2:28 PM

Funny that you play that broken record regarding a story about Val's.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 1:00 PM

And this of course is why liberals don't make good venture capitalist. They can't detach themselves from being so emotional about things and recognize when something is failing. Not a knock on Vals as I truly hope she is able to stay open as local eclectic stores add to the flavor of the community, but unless something changes in the business model, we are just kicking the can down the road.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 12:35 PM

Kelly-You're being a little hard on Christine for stating what's pretty obvious. A business that needs donations (not investments) to stay open has stopped functioning as a business, and has become some sort of retail museum. I think Val is great, and I like her store. If donations keep her open for years to come, that's fine with me. She's been a major asset to OP, and she deserves it. But, having said that, Christine is right. You better keep those checks a-comin'.

KellyOP from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 9:32 AM

To the lovely Christine I ask- How did you learn about music? Do you even care about it? I am betting you don't. And I am betting too you dont have an eclectic taste and lust for the music Val educates and sells. And that is just fine. There is a place for Taylor Swift's music fans... Your place is just not here. So go back to PerezHilton.com and get back to blogging about nothing. Us folks are gonna help a business that still continues to enrich our lives. Now beat it.

Carol & Rich from Cable, WI  

Posted: December 11th, 2012 7:28 PM

Dear Friend Val, A quick message from some old, old friends who are thinking of you now...sure enough, the ancient trombone player and his faithful wifey, Carol way up North....Hang in there, old buddy--wish we could be there. Since we're old-fashioned friends, we'll be sending our donation by snail mail. We're pulling for you to keep Val's Halla rolling ! Love, R and C

Becky from Juneau  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 6:30 PM

I was there at the beginning. It was her love for and encyclopedic knowledge of music coupled with hiring folks with the same qualities that made it home to anyone with an interest in music. The conversations were food for the Soul. That's the real product she sells. I work in the travel industry where the public intoxication with DIY also pushed a lot of knowledgeable folks out. Now customers are coming back. Along with high tech, folks want high touch which on-line only can't provide.

Bernie from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 3:05 PM

Merry Christmas everyone!

Shayne from Berwyn  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 9:54 AM

@ Dustin Anderson, we've done a few Groupon deals (as a matter of fact there is one live at the time of this writing!) and we're looking into how best to database our inventory to sell directly from our website. If you have any input on that, please do come in and talk to us!

Dustin Anderson from Chicago   

Posted: December 9th, 2012 9:19 PM

This is awesome. I totally get it. We're doing the same thing for danstackleservice.com. - Dan's is in Bucktown. He's 70 and bills are piling up. We think that the technology community can help bring these businesses into the 21st century. I work at Groupon. Running a Groupon is one way to get more exposure to the local community. We are also helping him refresh his website and allow anyone from anywhere to more easily find him and talk with him. Anyway, I'd love to compare notes.

Dave O'Donnell from Brookfield  

Posted: December 9th, 2012 9:41 AM

The Best thing about going to Val's Is finding something that you didn't even know was available, taking a chance, and finding something cool.

Val Camilletti from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 9th, 2012 8:36 AM

Let's not "pile on" Christine - she makes some valid points but needs a short tutorial on the realities of the business world. 1. When a multi-billion $ conglomerate is saddled with debt BUT has a viable plan for re-emergence, it seeks infusion of capital. That process, however it's couched, is called "fund" raising. 2. The cornerstone of personal investing is to put one's money in those products and/or services that one holds dear. Ask Warren Buffet (if he is a music lover, tell him to give me a call) 3. This "senior" woman has played her fair share of poker, and the first half of that gambler's edict is: "Ya gotta know when to hold 'em......." Class dismissed !

Shayne from Berwyn  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 5:12 PM

@ Diane K, maybe it'll work if you go directly to the Chip-In page. Try this link: http://valshallarecords.chipin.com/vals-halla-records

TommyB  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 5:08 PM

Christine from O.P.....Shame on us? Shame on you. "...unethical to put hope into a senior woman for nostalgic reasons."?!!?!?!?!?!?!!? Aside from a business standpoint, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. Sure, Val and the rest of us won't be around forever, but if any one of us can do just a little something to let Val continue giving us the gift of music and intelligent conversation, then by all means, let's. Ethics?!?! HA.

Diane K from Oak Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 4:29 PM

Thanks, Shayne but it's just not working for me. (there's no widget to click on) What says 'click' does nothing. Hope it gets fixed soon! :(

Derek from Milford,MA  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 3:09 PM

@christine from Oak Park. "Unethical to put hope in a senior woman for nostalgic reasons". Seriously? What a foolish and ignorant thing to post here. If people want to contribute to someone and something that has positively impacted their lives, let them. Let them do their best to save this gem of a store. I for one will be happily contributing to give Val a chance to keep her doors open. I loved that place growing up in Oak Park. It may work, it may not. I'm happy to help give it a shot!

Shayne from Berwyn  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 10:28 AM

@ Diane k: The link here seems to be working fine, just click on the Chipin widget and it will redirect you to Paypal. http://valshallaparty.blogspot.com/

Dave Coulter  

Posted: December 8th, 2012 7:06 AM

When Tasty Dog was gonna get bulldozed the torches and the pitchforks came out. I'd argue that Val's has provided infinitely more to this town, and it won't spoil your appetite : )

Diane K from Oak Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 9:13 PM

The donation site is confusing and doesn't seem to be working properly. When I try to make a donation, it just wants to tell me how to set up my own page for donations. :(

Diane K from Oak Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 8:56 PM

I'd love for Val to have a live webcam where we could see the store and hear some of those great conversations - and listen to the terrific music - new, old and ANYTHING she is playing every single day. Brick and mortar is great. Even better when you can be there, one way or another. I've often purchased music because of what I heard playing at the store. WISH I could stop in more often! I'd be HAPPY to purchase things ONLINE from Val instead of cold, cruel, bloodsucking 'outsiders'! :)

Christine from Oak Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 7:35 PM

@Shayne from Berwyn. Until you and your fellow business investors are ready and willing to put your own serious money into this as a sustainable business, it is unethical to put hope into a senior woman for nostalgic reasons. Shame on all of you.

Daniel J. Levin from Oak Park  

Posted: December 7th, 2012 9:03 AM

I have known val for 40+ years, and have frequented her store so many times, I knew the Elvis Shrine, to the international tapes like the back of my hand. I pray that you are able to keep the business afloat, and prosper.

Dave Coulter  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 8:32 PM

Good Luck Val in this holiday season! I've lost count of how many cd's of mine came from your store.

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 6:49 PM

Thank you Mr. Johnson for responding. I do understand that the board had to wait for the foreclosure to go thru the process which just seems to take forever. But the location (Green Line, South Blvd.) that Val's was in before, I think the board had a lot to do with that area. Not a good move on those properties. Also lost Thyme and Honey Restaurant.

Shayne from Berwyn  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 6:47 PM

@Christine: The movement to keep the doors open is only a part of the plan. The idea is to reconsider and reshape the store into something viable and sustainable today.

marina jason from chicago  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 6:06 PM

Val's Halla is important beyond the reaaches of Pak Park. It is a destination for those living in the city as well. Val herself is a rare treasure -- someone I am proud to call a friend./ Thanks to the Gills for their effort on Val's behalf. I hope the house concert is a resounding success -- wish I could be there.

Christine from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 4:21 PM

The times, they are a changin... no... they have changed. With all due respect to Val and all of you, you do not need an MBA to figure out that fundraising is not how to keep a business afloat. Case study: Lido Cafe. Neither fundraising nor pouring his hefty retirement money into his DTOP store worked. Kudos to the couple who did NOT get talked into keeping the Parent Teacher store open on Oak Park Ave by all the do-gooders. Hope all are well & enjoying life. ....know when to fold them.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 1:23 PM

@ M on Ridgeland: The last update I've received regarding S. Blvd. and OP Ave. is the property was moving out of foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings and to a new, local owner. I've just asked for a fresh update regarding this location, but do want to stress the VOP has very little leverage when a property is held by a bank. There have been discussions with the Arts District Board of Directors regarding next steps within the 2013 budget, so plans will move forward upon budget adoption.

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 12:47 PM

VOP has done so well in developing both these areas of OP!! Val's former area is empty and take a walk down Harrison! It is sad to see all the empty storefronts still there with no action being done on them yet.Go to Val's and support her business. Whats going on with these areas Village Board?

Splenetix from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 11:29 AM

Val's former location still stands empty, the whole corner is still empty, a real-estate bubble condo failure. The bubble helped destroy our local culture as well as our real estate values.

Simon from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 9:48 AM

I've had a strange winding journey through music that has pretty much brought me to Oak Park. Val is someone I met 6 years ago and her store and personality are something I love greatly. I'll do what i can to help.

B of OP from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 9:05 AM

Moving Val's from it's location right off the green line was the beginning of the end. I have friends who would take the green line from the city specifically to go to Val's. Once booted, many of those customers were lost. Way to go VOP.

Val Camilletti from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 6th, 2012 8:25 AM

OP TRANSPLANT: - You are so right, except for "vinyl" - but even so, that's no reason to stay away - Come visit, we can talk about music, food, horses, hobbies, shoe repair - come hear some live music, bring a dog, make a pilgrimage to the Elvis shrine - Welcome to Oak Park - we're very glad you're here, so whether you "buy" or not, don't be a stranger.

Steve Kulpa from Villa Park  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 6:16 PM

To borrow a phrase from Wavy Gravy -" For those of you that still believe that capitalism isn't all that weird - you may want to help her out and go down there and buy a few records, (or CD's, videos, etc.) "You don't know watcha got 'til it's gone"

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 5:01 PM

I've enjoyed going to Val's since I moved here, but I don't go as often as I used to. That just isn't how people buy recorded music anymore.

Aaron Cadam Samuels from Seattle  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 3:16 PM

Val's Halla Records was where I grew up. Seeing it disappear would be like bulldozing my childhood home. The store, it's legacy, and Val herself are amazing and beautiful. Go buy some records, people. It's gift giving season. Go buy lots of records.

Val Camilletti from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 8:05 AM

Ooops - that's Melissa ELSMO, and trust me - after tasting her food, no one will ever misspell her name again.

Cdonovan2  

Posted: December 5th, 2012 7:49 AM

The times may be changing for Val's, and that is a sad side-effect of modern technology. But, after Val's and other businesses were forced out of that location, how is that "planned development" working out for the rest of us?

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