Five Star on many Wednesdays as part of Loaded.

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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Feature Thu Sep 13 2007

Our Favorite Record Stores, Vol. 6

We love record stores (in case you hadn't noticed), and we especially love folks taking the plunge, and bringing their passion for vinyl to the people. New record stores, like the year-old KStarke on the Humboldt/Wicker line, is Transmission's destination this week for the sixth installment of our regular trip into brick-and-mortar purveyors of music.


Name: KStarke
Location(s): 1109 N. Western Ave.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 12-9; Sunday, 12-5
Website URL:
First opened: 2006
Approx. Size (sq. feet): 1100
Owner/Operator(s): Kevin Starke
Types of music sold (genre): Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop, Reggae Rock, Disco, and House
Types of music sold (format): CD/Vinyl
Buys/Sells used CDs/tapes/albums: Buys/Sells CD/Vinyl

Imagine you are a record collector who does a lot of buying and selling online. Over the years you have come to recognize other collectors with tastes similar to yours whose auctions you often browse. In fact, you probably make a point to look up what they're selling and you've most likely bought a few albums from them in the past. They just always seem to have the hottest records, you know? Now, let's say one day you're driving along Western Avenue and… "Hey, the sign in front of that record store is the same name as an eBay seller!" I'm sure it's happened a few times because Kevin Starke (a.k.a. KStarke) opened a record store and dubbed it after his username.

Straddling the line between Humboldt and Wicker Parks, KStarke sits just north of the Empty Bottle and south of Clemente High School. It's a small storefront with hours and genres painted on the door and windows. Inside are a few chairs and a futon for the comfort of non-diggers who've been dragged along by their friends for marathon sessions. (There's also a Mortal Kombat arcade game for their entertainment in the back next to the listening stations.) LPs and 12" records mostly from the 1970s onward dominate the front half of the store. A few rows and a small pile of 45RPMs (the bulk of which are reggae) and a medium-sized CD rack round out the store's stock. The bins are divided into house, disco, hip hop, soul, jazz, rock, comedy, and soundtrack sections. Each bin holds plenty of rare and interesting finds that any record collector will appreciate. (How often does anyone in the US see South African pressings or Japanese reissues of '70s Australian punk singles?) On the floor below are cutouts of the genres above in no particular order and boxes of miscellaneous 45s. The condition of these records can range from very good to poor. (I spied a copy of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" single that was in such poor condition the label could only be identified by the faint outline of the red Phillies record logo and "My" in the center. On the other hand, there's also a lot of really good disco down there.)

After years of buying whole collections and picking out the gems for online auctions, Starke was amassing an enormous inventory. He claims to have around 2 million LPs and 600,000+ 45RPMs occupying the shop's basement, the huge racks behind the DJ booth above the checkout counter, and probably a dozen other places. (Have you ever seen 2 million records? You don't just rent the apartment across the hall to hold them. You lease warehouses.) Opening the store has allowed him to unload more than he could list online. As stock goes out, it's replaced by the existing inventory and newly-acquired collections. With fair prices on most records (typically $5.99), Starke is providing the same opportunities for local consumers as he has been for online consumers. And, unlike some shops that have also been primarily an online venture before becoming a real store, there actually are a lot of good items out for sale. But they can get swiped if they're listed and bought online. So don't expect any of that rare northern soul to stick around too long.


When Transmission visited KStarke in August, two high school kids from the neighborhood spent an inordinate amount of time browsing through the vinyl and talking with Kevin about how cool it was that a record store was nearby and they didn't have to skate up to Gramaphone just to get some hip hop or house anymore [read our review of Gramaphone Records here]. Between discussing reggae labels, "Superstar" by the Carpenters, and the absurdity of Bow Wow, these kids showed a passion for discussing music that clarified the importance of the neighborhood record shop as a forum for learning. (And it also reminded me a lot of myself at that age — spending countless hours flipping through records and talking aloud to no one specific.) As the next generation of record consumers, a store like KStarke is vital to their upbringing.

And the KStarke experience doesn't just take place during the day. Parties regularly happen on Saturday nights and stretch into the early morning hours. Some people go for the drinks and socializing; others go to do some serious digging. A DJ spins from the booth perched above the front counter and speakers blast while people dance in the aisles between those trying to get in some late night shopping. And since it is a record store in the business of selling records, it's not faux pas to ask what a song is. Not only will you find out what it is, but you may even get a little background on it — like that it's a disco song by a gospel singer whose fans didn't particularly appreciate its vibe and, hence, it's quite a rarity because the label pulled it in response to the backlash.


Party time at KStarke

But what's important about KStarke is it's developing a community of DJs, consumers, and locals. It's not just a place where you can buy records. It's also a place to interact with fellow collectors and friends. (There's even a wall of Polaroids between the counter.) Hopefully, KStarke can join the higher echelons of Chicago record stores not just because of what's there to buy.
-James Ziegenfus

GB store
GB store

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.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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