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Interview Wed Oct 28 2015

Sputnik Finds its Orbit on the Northwest Side

Sputnik, the newest addition by Northwest Side purveyors Melissa and Joe Basilone, is more than just a shop. It's a place to grab a record, listen to new music, and hang out a while with a good book and a coffee brewed fresh next door at The Perkolator Cafe. Open for nearly a month now, Sputnik finds growth each day with an excellent record and book collection and new visitors drawn in by the space. I spoke with Melissa regarding the shop's advent, atmosphere, and hopes for the future.

We're so excited to welcome Sputnik to the city. I feel like it's going to become another Portage Park landmark, and I know it just launched this week on the anniversary of the launch of the satellite. What inspired you to choose this particular name for your shop?

Well, we spent many late nights trying to come up with a name. It's probably one of the hardest things about opening a business, coming up with a name. We really liked mid-century stuff, and we're really into vintage things - our house is very eclectic - but our little boy is really into space and we were throwing around ideas for names.

One of us said something like, we wanted it to reflect the fact that it was a satellite off of Perkolator [Coffee], because it's attached to our coffee shop. So it's kind of something that floats off in space kind of next to our coffee shop, and that's where our satellite came in, and then my husband was just like, "what about Sputnik?" because it was the catalyst for the space race and the atomic age whenever Sputnik went up into space, everybody got super excited about it, so that's kind of where that name came from, and the design of the place is based on that 1960s atomic age and excitement for space.

I love that. Space is so fascinating, just the curiosity it inspires, and I think that will make for a great atmosphere that will allow people to want to hang out in this wonder-filled atmosphere, too.

Yeah, absolutely. So the décor is really great. We have a giant space mural that's influenced by 1960s art illustrations and it's got a big picture of Sputnik and awesome Pulp Fiction sci-fi novel posters on the back wall to represent that side of things, and we have a giant wall of LP covers that all have space themes framed and on the wall.

That's very cool. I know this is your third addition to the community after Thrift & Thrive and Perkolator Coffee. What was your aim in picking this neighborhood over other up-and-coming areas now like Pilsen, et cetera?

Well, we moved here about nine years ago, and we moved up from what is called West Town now, and when we lived there it didn't really have a name, it was just a neighborhood east of the Ukrainian Village. We moved up here because we have a son, and we were just outgrowing our apartment, and the neighborhood wasn't as safe as we wanted it to be, so we basically moved where we could get a house, a yard, and a garage. We knew a little bit about the Northwest side, and we knew that there were some gyms up here, but we settled in, and after four years of living there, I got laid off of work, and we decided we wanted to open up our own business.

We were looking to do it in other neighborhoods, and we were like, you know, why would we invest all of that time and money and energy into making another neighborhood better, we want these things in our own neighborhood. We wanted to be able to walk from our house down to the strip, and go and do something. So, that was the catalyst for that too, was that we live within walking distance of our businesses. We just wanted to live in a better place. We weren't going to sit around to wait for somebody else to make it better. We just decided we would do it.

I know it's obviously connected to the Perkolator, and not a lot of shops have that dual aspect, café and shop atmosphere. What was your aim in doing this, was it just setting up the experience and allowing it to be a cozy place for people to want to hang around?

Absolutely. We look at it as sort of a reading and listening lounge, and just an extension of Perkolator seating, so you can grab your coffee and scone, and you can go and sit in Sputnik at a table, and you can look at books, you can listen to records, so the Sputnik side is a lot more loungey. The Perkolator side gets a little more busy and is more kid-friendly, but the Sputnik side is a chill place to sit and have some coffee, do some work, do some reading, listen to some records, and have a lounge feel to it.

Stemming off of that too, let's say a visitor is just wandering around the neighborhood and stumbles into the shop knowing nothing about it. What kind of experience do you think they would have?

Well, that has happened before, and the first thing is, a lot of the time people are shocked to see places like ours in the neighborhood because there are not a lot, but they are greeted warmly, and the experience right off the bat is a really welcoming kind of warm, homey feel. They get to sit down and have a great lunch or breakfast and they can also do some shopping as well. It's exciting because it's just something to do, it's another destination in the neighborhood.

Chicago has plenty of record shops, and they have their own unique personality, based on either what records they carry, or the vibe they put out. What is setting Sputnik's collection apart and what genres is it focusing on?

We have your typical used record selection. We're going to start carrying some new records from some local labels that are in our neighborhood soon. We have a little bit of everything. We have rock, hip-hop, jazz, soul, blues, we have a rack of Christmas records out right now. So we have a really good selection and it's really well organized, and the prices are great. I can't tell you how many times people comment on how good the prices are. So I think we just have a really solid selection with great prices and a really cool space-themed atmosphere.

I know it just opened, so you're obviously still getting everything together and seeing how the first month goes and everything, but what do you want to see from Sputnik in its coming months, or a year from now in growth and development?

I guess just more people utilizing the space and coming they can check it out, and knowing they can come in and read a book, and flip through a book and set it down, they don't have to buy it. We would also like to do some events probably, like some book signings and even have some bands play, we've had some interest and have them set up and do some shows, too.


Visit Sputnik yourself at 6034 W. Irving Park Rd., open daily from 8am to 6pm, and make sure to grab a coffee and pastry next door at the beloved Perkolator before you begin perusing the shop's selections.

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curtsy locke / October 29, 2015 10:04 AM

"Whenever Sputnik went up into space" was Oct. 4th, 1957 -- definitely not the 1960's. As far as the "catalyst for the atomic age", that would be the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs -- dating back to 1945 and 1952.

West Town refers to an entire Community Area, which includes River West, Noble Square, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, East Village, Smith Park, and runs west all the way to Humboldt Park (inexplicably including the park itself!)

Joe Basilone / October 29, 2015 12:08 PM

Curtsy, you are correct on your dates. We knowingly launched Sputnik on the 58th anniversary of the launch. The late 50's gave way to the 60's in terms of design elements, and now, nostalgia for that time period.
To clarify, we also said "gems," not "gyms."

Frank Styburski / November 8, 2015 2:41 PM

The Atomic Age,- and the Space Race, which began with the launch of Sputnik, were both, related developments of the new political, economic, and social reality that emerged after World War II. The United States had become a dominant power in the world.

We were busily helping to rebuild the cities of Western Europe, and expanding our influence in that part of the world. The Soviet union found itself in the same position of leadership in Eastern Europe. The world that mattered to us was divided into two different, and incompatible camps. The Soviet Union had moved from being an ally in WWII, to a rival in the Cold War. As an aspect of that struggle, both sides were using propaganda to bolster their side, and chip away at the other.

The nuclear arms race was one way that the rivals were competing for dominance, but the Space Race was another.

In the 1950s the Soviet union launched and successfully orbited the Earth's first artificial satellite,- Sputnik I. It orbited the globe every 96 minutes. The satellite traveled at about 18,000 miles per hour. It transmitted a radio signal which was monitored by amateur radio operators throughout the world. The signal continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. It could be seen as star moving in the night sky as a reminder of the Soviet presence in the world and in space.

The United States was in a panic as a result of this achievement.

In the 1960s, John Kennedy inspired our imagination by proposing that we land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He was doing what the Soviets were doing. -Waging a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the world. In fact, it was the civilian face in direct challenge to the arms race that we were waging with the Soviet Union, for world domination.

Everyone understood that our triumphs in space were an indication of our ability to match Soviet technology for control of the world.

Today, we appreciate the era of Sputnik and the Space Race for its retro-style and nostalgia. Despite being an offspring of tensions brought about by the Cold War, it was also a time of optimism and creativity. It gave us Rock & Roll, the Ford Mustang, miniskirts, and the Fender Stratocaster. We expected our lives to get better and better. And they did.

Much of what we have achieved since has been refinement or derivative of the exciting ideas of that period. Not much seems as sexy as the adventure of rockets blasting off for the first time.It seems natural that we would look back to that time with fondness.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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