Val’s halla Records is staying in Oak Park. The legendary store, which has been on South Boulevard just east of Oak Park Avenue since 1972, will relocate to 239 Harrison St. in August.
“I signed the lease Tuesday afternoon,” owner Val Camilletti confirmed last Wednesday.
Val’s halla’s last official day of business on South Boulevard will be Sunday, July 30.
Members of the Harrison Street Business Alliance, many of whom had for months been urging Camilletti to relocate there, expressed delight at the development.
“Everyone was totally thrilled,” Buzz Caf owner Laura Maychruk said last Thursday. Maychruk said Val’s move was announced at the monthly meeting of the alliance the night before.
“I’d called her months ago,” said Maychruk. “I told her, ‘Val, if you’re at all interested, we’d love to have you.'”
They even started a postcard-writing campaign. Maychruk said one business owner made a point of sending one of her business postcards to Camilletti from wherever her travels took her. It read, “We’re having so much fun. Wish you were here.”
Maychruk said the development is a win-win for everyone, with Val’s halla getting a great location, and the area getting a great business.
“I think she’s going to do well here. It’s the perfect spot for her,” Maychruk said.
Camilletti’s new landlord, Bill Planek of Greenplan Management, echoed those sentiments Monday, saying Camilletti has “the personality and style” to fit right in on Harrison Street.
“It’s exciting to have a successful retailer come to Harrison Street,” said Planek. “[Val’s] has a huge following, and offers something that other retailers don’t.”
Coming full circle
Camilletti admitted that, despite the warm invitation extended by Harrison Street district merchants, she still hadn’t felt quite comfortable with such a move until recently. She’d been hoping to acquire a lease at another South Boulevard site, but was unable to arrange it despite repeated efforts.
Four weeks ago, she underwent an epiphany of sorts while talking with her oldest friend over the phone in South Carolina.
When her friend asked, “What’s going on with your [South Boulevard location]?” Camilletti told her it didn’t look promising. “You might just have to let go of that little idea,” her friend replied. Why, she asked, hadn’t Camilletti considered moving to Harrison Street. After all, she pointed out, it’s just blocks directly west from where Camilletti had grown up in Austin.
Stunned, Camilletti realized that she had, as she put it, “been listening to the wrong karmic message.” The next day she contacted the Oak Park Development Corporation and visited the Harrison Street Arts District with the OPDC’s John Eckenroad.
“Some were too small and some were too big,” she said of the potential sites. Then she looked through the large windows of the former woodworking shop a few steps east of Highland Avenue on Harrison.
“That’s it. That’s the one,” she told Bill Planek.
The new Val’s halla site is almost exactly one mile directly west of the small house in the 5400 block of Harrison in which she spent the first 30 years of her life.
Further underscoring her sense of coming full circle, said Camilletti, was an occurrence several weeks ago. A man walked into the store and placed an old paper record store bag on the counter.
“I thought you’d like to have this,” he told her. The perfectly preserved waxed paper bag, which dated back to 1970 or 1971, bears the logo of NMC Discount Records, the forerunner to Val’s halla, owned by Oak Parker James Nikitas, her old employer.
The six-store chain Nikitas built began to go under in 1971. In 1972 the record distributor took back all the stock from the Oak Park location, and Camilletti soon after arranged to rent the space, beginning a long musical odyssey that will now continue on Harrison Street.
“We’re going to frame it,” said Camilletti, holding up the bag as one might a fine art print.
Camilletti admits she’s experiencing a welter of feelings as she prepares to pull up roots that go 34 years deep.
“Apart from the memories of this building,” she said, one of her biggest regrets is abdicating her unofficial role as Oak Park’s goodwill ambassador. Pointing to the Oak Park Avenue elevated station directly across the street, she notes that she’s often functioned as a sort of tour guide for visitors detraining in Oak Park over the decades.
“What I’ll miss most, is that we’re the first stopping point for people from all over the world. People from other countries and other states visiting Oak Park for Frank Lloyd Wright and Hemingway get off at Oak Park Avenue, not Harlem or Ridgeland, because they recognize the name,” she said.
“And they turn their heads, and we’re right here, this funky little place,” said Camilletti. Those people, she said, ask where to go for dinner and how to get to the Wright Home & Studio and Hemingway’s birth home. Camilletti has been happy to oblige.
“I’ve had the world at my doorstep. We’re the first-stop ambassadors for the Oak Park area,” she said. “I love doing that.”
Shaking her head and smiling, she adds, “I will miss that terribly.”
‘Elvis will be in the building’
With the exception of the elevated tracks across South Boulevard, much of what made Val’s halla Val’s halla?#34;the record racks and front counter, as well as a plethora of rock ‘n’ roll artwork, and posters covering most every available inch of wall and ceiling space?#34;will be incorporated into the new location. Even the old Elvis shrine, though Camilletti isn’t sure just where yet.
“I haven’t figured out where,” she said of the shrine currently housed in her business’ tiny, non-functioning toilet booth. “He’s been in that bathroom for years now.”
One thing the new location won’t have is a studied, corporate, faux-hip music mart appearance. A customer making a purchase last week asked Camilletti, “Is it going to look like this place, or more modern?”
“I don’t do modern,” she replied, deadpan.
Whatever stuff does end up at the new Val’s halla location, Camilletti hopes she doesn’t have to take it all with her. She said there were two things she was dreading as she began contemplating closing the South Boulevard site last year. The first was finding herself “in some dark warehouse, filling out [record] orders on line.” The second was dealing with the logistics of moving a mountain of stock.
“The thought of it literally hurt my body,” she said of her warehouse nightmare. “I got nervous and my stomach hurt when I thought about it last year.”
She likely wouldn’t have had a choice. Her store, though small by most standards, houses an enormous number of records, tapes and CDs.
“I have no place to store this stuff,” she said. “I’d end up with tons of?#34;literally tons of?#34;merchandise.” To give an idea of how much stock currently sits in the store, Camilletti said she has 33 cases?#34;4,000 albums?#34;of classical selections alone. She’s presently working to shrink that number down to a manageable mass before she moves, and has discounted all vinyl classical LPs by 50 percent. Other sales will follow, she said.
The day after what Camilletti said she expects to be a much bigger than usual 34th anniversary party July 30, she and a group of volunteers will begin the monumental task of packing up whatever’s left?#34;thousands of albums, tapes and CDs, as well as dozens of shelves and display cases?#34;and moving it to the new site and setting it all up again.
She expects to have a good deal of help with the process. At least two ex-employees she knows are planning to fly in from out of state?#34;one from New York, the other from Kansas City. Others, she suspects, will do the same.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised at being surprised,” she said. “I’d like them all to gather here.”
Old employees aren’t the only people Camilletti hopes to hear from. She’s inviting all her old customers to contact her between now and July 30.
“I’d love to hear from people,” she said. “People can e-mail me or write me with their memories and photos. That would be very meaningful for me.”