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By Anna Lothson
There's one place in Oak Park the music hasn't died, all thanks to one woman.
Local music aficionado Val Camilletti, longtime owner of Val's Halla Records has offered a haven for enthusiasts of nearly every genre who want to share in her one true love.
"It's all about the music," Camilletti said.
That will be the center of this year's hallaPalooza, a tradition dating back decades where patrons flock to the store and listen to live music, enjoy food and drinks, and browse through the eclectic mix of records and CDs Camilletti has made her pride and joy. The celebration, as much for the community as it is for her, marks a memento for more than just the store itself.
Camilletti, who is soon to turn 72, said it's been 50 years since she joined the record retail industry. Shayne Blakeley, the store's sole employee, is celebrating his first decade at the store.
Oh, and there's that other mark — Val Halla's 40th anniversary.
"We wanted to celebrate in a way that more than ever was about the music," she said. This includes looking back on the countless acts that have made the small window-front stage at the store a concert venue. "It's become pretty special."
Eleven bands will hit the stage starting at noon this Saturday, July 28 and running through Sunday. The event isn't geared toward just customers, Camilletti said, as she wants anyone who loves music to drop by. Customers though, will get 40 percent off merchandise in honor of the anniversary.
A variety of music memorabilia will be auctioned off throughout the day and profits will be donated to Oak Park's Animal Care League — Camilletti's second love.
"I've always welcomed animals as much as people [into the store]," she said. "Life is all about music and animals as far as I'm concerned."
But of course, it's also about the people, those who've joined Camilletti by walking the colorfully decorated rows of records — divided by genres marking the cultural eras and tales of historical changes in America — that together share the story of Val's.
Anyone like Camilletti who knows music, an expert by every definition, knows the quaint store at 239 Harrison is in a category of its own. The industry has shifted drastically in the shop's history, but the same vibe remains constant at Val's.
This includes the decked out Elvis shrine that's found a permanent home in the store's bathroom, and the life-size Beatles poster near the entryway that was bought in its prime for $1.99.
Like any store owner it's been a whirlwind the past 40 years, full of ups and downs, but for Camilletti, she isn't slowing down anytime soon.
"Sometimes I can't believe it," she said. "Sometimes it feels like 140 years — depending on the day."
Camilletti knows, despite a changing industry, the essence of what brings people together for music remains the same. Only the mode of delivery has changed, a factor she thinks won't ever diminish people's love for the art. For her, it's talking about it, sharing it, loving it and living it.
That's a philosophy that will be heard at this weekend's festivities. The event commemorates a time spent with the "Val's halla family," with a number of people who've supported Camilletti from before the store opened. It's a group that loves everybody, she said, and one that deserves a party.
"Anyone who makes 40 years of anything these days — just of life itself — should be celebrated."
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