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Feature Thu Feb 08 2007
This time around, our record store reviewers take you to a couple of great establishments that you're probably missing out on, simply because they're not on the Red Line. Read about the service, selection and atmosphere at The Old School Records in Forest Park and Beverly Records (in Beverly, oddly enough) and then strap on your boots and get out there! Nothing beats the winter doldrums like some new music between your ears, and what better place to get it than at a couple of fantastic mom-and-pop record stores.
Name: The Old School Records
Location(s): 7446 W. Madison St., Forest Park, IL
Hours: Tuesday through Friday 12-7, Saturday 11-6, Sunday 12-5
Website URL: http://www.theoldschoolrecords.com
First opened: May 2003 as a retail store, established as a record label in 1992.
Approx. Size (sq. feet): 1000
Owner/Operator: Peter and Jodi Gianakopoulos
Types of music sold (genre): All styles.
Types of music sold (format): All styles.
Buys/Sells used cds/tapes/albums?: They buy and sell cd, dvd, vhs, audio cassettes, lp, 12", 45s & 78s
What with the increasing Walmartization of America, the file-sharing p2p scare of a few years back, and now the behemoth that is iTunes, you'd think the mom and pop corner record store would be on the way out. And perhaps some are. But others, like Forest Park's The Old School Records, are clearly on the way up. I suspect this has something to do with the dearth of compelling CD titles at your local Target, Best Buy and Tower Records (R.I.P.), the impersonal nature of the mp3 files gathering dust on your hard drive, and the coldness of a burned CD devoid of artwork, liner notes or any kind of historical context.
The proprietors of the record stores that are surviving are separating themselves from the pack in one-way or another. Peter and Jodi Gianakopoulos of The Old School Records in Forest Park have focused on a couple different areas to help them succeed. What's their secret? Part of it is the fact they didn't just haphazardly decide to open a record store. Prior to opening The Old School Records back in 2003 they'd spent a combined 20 years working in or managing every decent place up and down Clark Street (before that it was Iowa City), they also started their own label and generally were heavy into the Chicago music scene. As Jodi puts it, "We've both worked all over Chicagoland and elsewhere, so people know our faces and how we run our business. We're confident in our knowledge, and that makes our customers feel assured." So they know the music and know that selection is key. Another factor in their success is a dream location complete with interesting architecture, good pedestrian traffic, plenty of free parking and a thriving business community. Add to that the excellent personal service you receive at The Old School Records, and you've got the recipe for a successful neighborhood record store.
Of course the meat and potatoes of any great CD store is the music, and in particular being able to satisfy every walk-in, phone order, and internet inquiry. Jodi and Peter are able to accomplish this feat with their deep and diverse catalog on hand. Again Jodi, "We want all different kinds of people to shop here. Broad specialization is what we strive for. I know it sounds crazy, but we do try to be all things to all people!" The store is split pretty evenly four ways between new and used vinyl and new and used CDs. Of course they have a large selection of CDs with tons of jazz, indie rock, soul, R&B, and electronic music, and with their contacts there is always a steady stream of "new" used CDs to thumb through. If Jodi and Peter don't have what you're looking for they can probably find it. They'll order it, and they'll call you when it comes in. Vinyl? Did someone say vinyl? Peter's in charge of vinyl buying and he's been known to buy entire collections numbering in the thousands. The vinyl's organized by genre with plenty of brand new LPs of every style lining the store walls. Be careful of the back room though, that's where Peter stores his most recent vinyl buys and the stacks are a bit precarious. There's also a nice used DVD section, and for the truly old school movie buff there's plenty of VHS as well.
The Old School Records are good neighbors too. They set up shop in 2003 in the then slowly gentrifying Madison Street business district of Forest Park. Unlike other municipalities in the near west suburbs, Forest Park was welcoming and supportive of the pair's business plans. Since 2003 the area has been in the midst of a renaissance with exclusive boutiques opening up all around The Old School Records. Jodi and Peter are now very active in the revived Madison shopping district. They sponsor events, work on flyers promoting the area, and provide entertainment for street fairs.
But I think the most important aspect of their business success is the fact that they know nearly every customer on a first name basis. They don't play favorites, and they value each customer; whether it's the 70-year-old bebop fan, the scruffy heavy metal dude or the no-longer-so-hip-suburban-father-of-two. Entering the store on a Saturday afternoon is like the scene from the opening credits of Cheers with the regulars acknowledging each other with a nod or a shout. Again this isn't happenstance. The owners created that vibe, "We've all been in those stores that make you feel like you're not welcome, that's not our thing. We strive every day to be respectful and engaging. We love our customers! We would never want our customers to feel like we want them to leave!" Knowing your customer's names and preferences is one thing but how about their phone number, email address and shoe size. In this age of data mining, I think Jody and Peter can compete with the best internet search bot. They've been known to even keep an eye out for certain records and then call the customer when they turn up, or they'll just set things aside until you just happen to stroll in on your own. Lest you think they're luddites from the previous paragraphs. Don't worry, Peter's in charge of online orders and with much of their used catalog for sale through Amazon or eBay, he's pretty busy stuffing envelopes and updating those sites with new inventory.
It's going to be hard for independent record stores to survive the switch from analog to digital (CDs and vinyl to mp3 downloads). But if they were all as focused on the music and the customer as The Old School Records is, they'd at least have a fighting chance.
Name: Beverly Records
Location(s): 11612 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Hours: M-F 10-7pm, Sat. 9:30-6pm, Sun. 11-3pm
Website URL: http://www.beverlyrecords.com
First opened: 1967
Approx. Size (sq. feet): 2800
Owner/Operator(s): Jack and Randy Dreznes
Types of music sold (genre): Nearly everything imaginable
Types of music sold (format): Vinyl/CD/Cassette
Buys/Sells used cds/tapes/albums?: Buys and sells
I went to college near Pittsburgh and spent a lot of time honing my skills as a record collector at Jerry's. One conversation I remember clearly was between Jerry and two gentlemen - one who was raving about the store. Jerry asked where he lived and he replied, "Chicago." Jerry chuckled and said, "Well, there's no place like this in Chicago." My first reaction was that poor Chicagoans didn't know what they were missing. Well, that's not exactly true. And that store is Beverly Records.
Located in the Beverly neighborhood near 116th & Western, Beverly Records has been in business for nearly 40 years. (They'll celebrate their anniversary in June.) With a primarily vinyl inventory, this store has been catering to generations of record shoppers who are fueled by the pursuit of rare music. Digging through stacks and crates for hours upon hours is second nature to customers. It's not uncommon to see someone sitting in an aisle sorting through a bin for a great record that they're obsessed with owning. The appeal of a store like this is the prospect of actually finding that record. That's not to say everyone will walk away with precisely what they're searching for, but finding rarities never seems far-fetched.
The main room holds the bulk of their stock. Jazz and blues albums are along the far wall from the entrance. (Note: Don't forget about the shelves above and below the bins.) The middle rows hold albums by bands, groups, and male vocalists of pop genres. Near the singles (more on them later) are cheap bins. The back rooms have soundtracks, female vocalists, easy listening, country & western, gospel, and the other things like whale sounds, inaugural speeches, and educational records. A room to the side of the counter has equipment, gear, and a handful of CDs.
Now, the gold at Beverly Records is the singles. It is the store's specialty. And even though they don't seem to take up very much space, they are everywhere. (Also, they're five inches smaller than nearly every other item in the store, so they're not as prominent.) On the wall nearest the entrance are hundreds of blue bins that hold singles. They're marked with codes that describe the contents. Across from the main counter is a small area with shelves that hold the notebooks showing where any single that has been in the US Top 40 is located. The catch is a two-parter: 1. seeing if a record is even there; 2. toiling to figure out which is in the best condition. Even if there're ten copies, it's no guarantee that any will be playable. (Also, there are a lot of reissues, so be careful if you're the type of collector who only wants originals.) It's the rub of having such a massive collection. Singles that didn't chart (at least in the US) can be found beneath the LP bins throughout the rest of the main room. This is where arguably the best and worst of Beverly's stock resides. Considering some of the absurd omissions from US charts in the past (How'd "Waterloo Sunset" not chart in the US?), it's normal to find amazing songs among the worst that were busts for a good reason.
Unfortunately, the shop also has some drawbacks. First of all, it's an asthmatic's nightmare. Like any good record store, certain corners are musty and can leave even perfectly healthy customers in coughing fits. Secondly, it's a little on the expensive side. The standard price is 4 LPs for $20, which would be decent if the condition of all records were at least very good, but it varies greatly. Some are in near mint condition (like a Portuguese copy of the Police's Outlandos d'Amour that I found last month) while others are flat-out broken (like about a dozen albums that I've picked up thinking, "Why hasn't anyone else bought this?! Oh...that's why.").
In an era when the music business is changing so quickly and we've seen the demise and downgrading of once powerful corporations in the industry, it's noteworthy to see a small business operate essentially in the same fashion for 40 years with no signs of slowing down. Beverly is still a tremendous resource for the Chicagoland record collector. Take advantage of it.