September 23, 2008
Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia
Halle Cox brings a compact disc to the counter.
"Is this any good?" she asks.
Steve Warrenfeltz, co-owner of Kiss the Sky records in Geneva, tells Cox a bit about the CD, which is by alternative country group Devil in a Woodpile. Cox looks doubtful.
"Mike loves these guys," Warrenfeltz says, referring to the other owner, Mike Messerschmidt. "Do you want to hear some of it?" He loads the disc into the store stereo system.
"Ah, great choice!" Messerschmidt shouts from across the room. "I love these guys."
Cox has been a devoted Kiss the Sky customer for years, precisely because of moments like this.
"It's the personal service, plus I always get great recommendations here," said Cox, a St. Charles resident whose musical tastes run from classic rock to jazz to "psychobilly," a mix of punk and rockabilly that Messerschmidt turned her on to. "You can't find all that anywhere else."
Go back 15 or 20 years, and just about every suburb had a record store like Kiss the Sky. The local record store was a place to buy music, of course, but it also served as a kind of real-world chat room, a spot where fans could discuss and debate and exchange information about the latest bands.
Today, just a handful of record stores remain in the suburbs, and those that do have to fight and claw to stay afloat in the age of big-box retailers and digital downloading.
Going toe-to-toe against the mighty iPod in 2008 might seem like a suicide mission, but suburban record store owners have accepted the challenge. At the very least, they know they'll have fun doing it.
"It's a battle," said Mark Paradise, owner of Sunshine Daydream records in Mount Prospect. "But it's one that's worth fighting."
Passion for music
Paradise, 42, got into the record store business for a simple reason: He loves music. He bought Sunshine Daydream in 1997 and moved it to its current location on Euclid Avenue in 2001.
"I was the type of kid who would listen to all four sides of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' back to back, wearing those big chunky headphones they had back then," Paradise said. "Other kids I knew collected baseball cards, but I bought records. I can't play music myself, so owning a store was the only other option."
Now a Lake Zurich resident, Paradise grew up in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. He spent much of his childhood at the Flipside Records store at Foster and Kedzie.
"My mom would drop me off at the store and then do some errands. She would have to drag me out of there when she was done," he said.
The store gave Paradise a place to share his passion with people just as into music as he was.
"I'd read all the album covers and ask the people behind the counter what they thought," he said. "They'd point out other stuff I might like, and we'd just sit there and talk music. It was great."
Messerschmidt and Warrenfeltz can relate. Friends since high school, the pair grew up in the South suburbs. Their favorite record store back in the day was the legendary Hegewisch Records on the far southeast corner of the city.
"We'd go in there and walk out with armloads of records," Messerschmidt said. "It was a fantastic place."
As die-hard music fans, the two friends, now 56, often discussed owning a record store together. But it wasn't until they were in their mid-40s that they made it happen.
"We were both doing the corporate thing and weren't very happy with that," Messerschmidt said.
Warrenfeltz said there were some sleepless nights when they started Kiss the Sky in a Batavia strip mall 12 years ago. The store moved to downtown Geneva in 2006.
"I took a big hit in income to start this," Warrenfeltz said. "But it's been so much more rewarding than anything else I could have done."
CD sales have been dropping for years in the United States, while downloads have skyrocketed. In April, Apple announced that its downloading service, iTunes, had surpassed Wal-Mart to become the No. 1 retailer of music in the country.
This digital competition, coupled with the low prices offered at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, has put the squeeze on independent record stores. Since 2003, roughly 1,300 independent stores have closed across the United States, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, an industry research group. There are less than 2,500 stores left.
Grim facts, to be sure. And suburban stores haven't been immune to the trend.
"I look around this area sometimes and think, are we the only one left?" Messerschmidt said.
The changing market has forced record stores to overhaul their inventories. Kiss the Sky, for example, offers just about every genre of rock. But it has also become a destination for heavy metal fans by stocking obscure albums not easily found online or at Best Buy.
"We hear from metal fans who tell us they've driven a long distance to visit our store because we have stuff no one else does," Warrenfeltz said.
Sunshine Daydream caters primarily to fans of classic rock and contemporary "jam bands" like Phish and Umphrey's McGee. Like most other stores, Sunshine Daydream supplements its music offerings with T-shirts, posters and other products.
Other suburban stores are taking similar measures to stay vital. Vinyl Frontier in McHenry offers guitar lessons; Rolling Stones records in Norridge provides listening stations where customers can preview new releases.
"You have to do everything music-related you can in order to compete," Vinyl Frontier owner Tim Wille said.
While CD sales are down in stores, local owners have noticed some positive developments recently.
First, vinyl LPs - new and old - have made a comeback. And not just with older fans still using their 1970s dorm-room turntables.
Contemporary bands like the Drive-by Truckers, Radiohead and the White Stripes have recently issued music on 180-gram vinyl, which is both sturdier and better-sounding than the LPs of old. Some new vinyl releases come with a free digital version of the album, and many of today's turntables include software that allows users to download LPs onto their computers.
"I see a lot of young fans, people in their teens, getting into vinyl," Paradise said. "They like the packaging, they like the artwork, and they like the warmer sound."
Vinyl is still a niche product, and new releases can cost $20 to $25. But because record stores are the only place to find vinyl, the trend gives them an edge.
Store owners say they're also starting to sense that for devoted music fans the pendulum is shifting away from downloading and back to buying music in stores.
Messerschmidt points out that downloading is a solitary experience. Fans enjoy the convenience of it, but they also like the chance to walk into a store, look at the posters on the wall and debate the latest releases with other music fans, he said.
"Downloading isn't going away. It's here and it will stay here. But it seems to be leveling off a bit. I think fans realize that there's something missing from the experience," Messerschmidt said.
Paradise said the atmosphere inside a good record store also makes it a more attractive shopping experience than getting a CD at a chain store.
"Things sometimes look bad in this business, but I'm not pessimistic. I'm hopeful," Paradise said. "I hear enough times from customers who say, 'Wow, this place reminds me of a great store I went to in the '70s or '80s.' I think there are enough people out there who want what we offer."
Suburban record stores
Here are a few of the independent record stores still alive and well in the suburbs:
Kiss the Sky: 301 W. State St., Geneva. (630) 232-1888
Sunshine Daydream: 2027 E. Euclid Ave., Mount Prospect. (847) 299-2622
Vinyl Frontier: 1326 N. Riverside Drive, McHenry. (815) 363-8230
Rainbow Records: 714 S. Northwest Hwy., Barrington. (847) 304-0721
Rolling Stones: 7300 W. Irving Park Road, Norridge. (708) 456-0861
Permission granted by copyright holder for this express use only.
Article List• November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here
• March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside
• December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another
• April 20, 2012 - Boston.com - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick
• November 20, 2011 - Salon.com - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?
• June 9, 2011 - NJ.com - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good
• April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival
• February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location
• August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction
• January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores
• September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove
• August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music
• June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore
• May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession
• April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback
• April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together
• April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops
• April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers
• April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza
• April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street
• January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block
• October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash
• September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia
• June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD
• April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on
• April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!
• April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing
• April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops
• April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up
• December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop
• December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)
• December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing
• November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts
• November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records
• August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP
• June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store
• June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only
• June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts
• June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery
• May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity
• March 22, 2007 - NARM Awards - Almighty Retail Named NARM Related Supplier Finalist For Third Consecutive Year
• March 16, 2007 - Chortler - Shout! Factory Has Revamped Its Website
• March 9, 2007 - PhillyBurbs.com - Internet killed the record store?
• March 4, 2007 - Sacramento Bee - New groove for Solomon
• February 28, 2007 - USA Today - Exclusives aim to pull music fans into stores
• February 28, 2007 - New York Newsday - Latin record shops thrive despite changes in music business
• February 23, 2007 - Montpelier Bridge - Buch Spieler Sails On Despite a Music Industry Decline
• November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule
• October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive
• October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores
• October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower
• October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels
• September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline
• September 22, 2006 - CNN.com - Indie stores confront a new era
• September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks
• August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores
• August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future
• July 16, 2006 - New York Times - The Graying of the Record Store
• July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts
• July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"
• July 5, 2006 - Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader - Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times
• June 6, 2006 - Billboard - NARM Nominations Announced
• May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove
• March 18, 2006 - Billboard - Indies in a bind
• January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs
• January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out
• December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop
• December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up
• October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert
• September 12, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune - Twilight for Starbound Records
• August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital
• July 2005 - Rolling Stone - Record Biz Still Sinking
• June 18, 2005 - Billboard - NARM Noms Announced
• March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter
• February 16, 2005 - MSN - Genius Loves Company
• October 12, 2004 - Rolling Stone - Wal-Mart wants $10 CDs
• July 10, 2004 - Billboard - Almighty Institute To The Rescue
• January 14, 2004 - Creative Loafing Charlotte - Manifest Destiny
• December 29, 2003 - New York Times - on the rise of mass marketers
• November 13, 2003 - Rolling Stone - Best Buy snags rights to band's new DVD
• October 9, 2003 - USA Today - Best Buy wins sales rights to Rolling Stones DVD box set
• October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers
• May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track
• May 9, 2003 - Hits - Rerap