Local LP shops celebrate the resurgence of vinyl

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Anne Malina

Contributing reporter

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of LPs has been greatly exaggerated. At a time when most music is digitized — and most of that downloaded to phones and iPods — vinyl records are, for a growing number of listeners, a viable and exciting way to tune in to their favorite music.

As a result, local music outlets nationwide now stage Record Store Day, an annual celebration of vinyl that attracts hordes of music enthusiasts hoping to add limited-edition LPs to their record collections. For this year's National Record Store Day, which took place Saturday, April 20, dozens of area record stores joining the homage to vinyl.

Even though the music industry shift to digital and file-sharing killed big record store chains such as Tower Records and Rose Records in the 1990s and 2000s, independent record stores have been clawing back from their near-death-experiences. A renewed interest in vinyl is helping.

Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 to cater to the growing group of LP enthusiasts and to the growing number of musical groups that are now releasing their albums on vinyl. The website Recordstoreday.com describes Record Store Day as "a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the U.S. and thousands of similar stores internationally."

Val Camilletti, 73-year-old owner of Val's halla Records at 239 Harrison St. in Oak Park, calls the record industry "remarkable" and credits it with "giving life where life was sucked away." Camilletti started working at Capitol Records 50 years ago. She opened her store in 1972 — the same year WXRT was born. On Saturday, WXRT deejays Terri Hemmert and Lyn Brehmer dropped by to join the festivities.

Camilletti, like many other vinyl enthusiasts, views music as a way to express one's identity and each LP as a piece of art. She believes the order of songs on a record is chosen for a reason and is meant to be experienced in that particular sequence.

"Music is personal. It is an art form, not a piece of dry goods. People appreciate that," said Camilletti. "Not long ago, the only place to buy music was your local, independent record store." Record Store Day is a "time to honor" those independents.

Record Store Day brought Val's halla the "single biggest day all year" in sales, thanks to hundreds of limited-edition titles, a storewide sale, concert ticket giveaways and live music.

Val's halla recently bounced back from a financial scare in December, during which friends and concerned individuals held fundraisers to increase the shop's LP stock. Camilletti hopes to add more live performances by providing more seats for older audiences as well as investing in an entire stage to accommodate the performing bands.

Peter and Jodi Gianakopoulos will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Old School Records, 7446 Madison St., Forest Park, next month. Jodi said the biggest change she and Peter have experienced since opening was how, "the music industry has helped vinyl. ... The media is finally helping out the little guy." She has been in the record business since 1986 and declares that it is "really fun to be a vinyl vendor" because there is "a lot of history." "Kids think records are cool," she said, "which closes the generation gap." It also amuses older people. "Record Store Day is bigger every year," she said, because records are "culturally indelible."

Gar Brandt has worked at Reckless Records for 10 years, though he just started working at their Forest Park branch when it opened a month ago at 7511 Madison St. The space was previously owned by record and collectible shop Cyclopx. The owner of Cyclopx wanted to sell the entirety of his stock along with the space, so Reckless Records swept in and took over. Brandt said Reckless' stock is "primarily used LPs." The new location in Forest Park, he says, will make it "easier for Reckless Records' customers to shop and trade outside of the city" because they won't have to deal with parking and driving in Chicago. To Brandt, owning a record is like "owning a piece of history."

Alan Heffelfinger opened his store, Oak Park Records, 179 S. Oak Park Ave., in November of 2004. Back then, the store didn't have a very large customer base, but this has changed in the past three or four years. He said he's getting more young people as customers lately.

"Record Store Day is our Christmas," said Heffelfinger. Oak Park Records is primarily a used record store. "Ninety-five percent of our stock is vintage," he said, crediting the recent resurgence of interest in vinyl to the growth of record collecting as a hobby.

He also noted that the experience of playing vinyl records (complete with record cover art and text) is superior to the digital experience.

The debate, no doubt, will rage on.

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