In 1995 Alan Hefflefinger remembers standing in the record shop, Second Hand Tunes, and saying to his girlfriend, “I’d love to own a store like this one day.” Almost ten years later, Al purchased that very same shop, renamed it Oak Park records, and has been his own boss ever since.
Al’s musical prowess does not go unnoticed by anyone that visits or shops at his store, and so I’m curious to know, where do these roots lie? Al can recall waking up, as a child no more than six years of age, and heading straight for his stereo. He’d put on his headphones (he motions with this hands to indicate those ancient, gigantic kind that some of us still remember well), he’d play his favorite tunes while singing along, and then, like clockwork, his mother would come in to his room to gently shush him.
He makes the universal sign for “shhh” as he recounts this memory: he places an index finger to his pursed lips, but the look of his mother that he attempts to replicate is one of slight amusement, not necessarily annoyance. His wise mother knew not to stifle the passions of this musical wunderkind. Just one visit will yield the same deduction: Al’s encyclopedic knowledge of music is staggering. Just for fun, you might pay him a visit and pull a little Alex Trebek on him.
In junior high, his trusty walkman never left his side (for those too young to remember, it’s kind of like an iPod, only a lot bigger, and it doesn’t hold more than ten songs at a time). In high school and college, he always “had a lot of music around. Everyone knew I was the one with the music.” Al studied Communications at Concordia University in River Forest and eventually went on to work at a radio station. When changes at the radio station left him unemployed, it seemed organic to go into music retail. He had been working in Oak Park at Second Hand Tunes when he received an email about the store closing. “It took less than ten seconds [to make the decision] to buy the store.”
Al’s parents have been supportive; his family can’t imagine him doing anything else, and his wife (the same woman who stood by his side when he had his light bulb moment ten years ago) continues to encourage his endeavor to provide great music and the best possible service. Al works long hours, and is completely committed to his business. He wants everyone that comes into his establishment to feel welcome.
And he wants his customers to know he welcomes diversity in musical tastes. He insist no one should feel inhibited when it comes to buying their favorite artist’s album: “Do you like it? Does it make you shake? Then who cares what others think!” So, umm, does this mean he won’t laugh at me if I ask for that Boy George album I’ve been wanting? I wasn’t shy about buying Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye, or Tom Petty, but now I feel musically emancipated.
Al now has two children, Kate and Ella, who most customers have come to know over the years. Their presence is most noticeable when I ask questions about random albums and the price of DVDs: the girls interject, “This one is my favorite!” I catch a glimpse of pink and the word “Princess” as they dance away with their own critic’s choice in hand. It really is a mom and pop shop, rather than an Indy music store; you’ll find no musical elitism here: just a friendly family atmosphere. While chatting with Al, I get the distinct feeling that this store is an extension of him. So it comes as no surprise when he offers the following: “In the end, it all comes back and reflects on [me]. No matter what, [I’m] sure I’m doing something that I absolutely love.” And it shows.
Oak Park Records is located at 179 S. Oak Park Avenue. For info, call 708.524.2880.