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How Chicago Became One of America's Destinations for Vinyl Records

By Tanveer Ali | April 17, 2015 5:43am
 Laurie's Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square on Record Store Day 2014.
Laurie's Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square on Record Store Day 2014.
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DNAinfo/Quinn Ford

WICKER PARK — The last year has been big for vinyl in Chicago.

Shuga Records opened in Wicker Park and Funk Trunk Records debuted in Rogers Park.

Two other stores moved. On Thursday, Chicago's biggest name in vinyl, Reckless Records, moved its flagship Wicker Park location to a "mega store" down the street.

The new Borderline Music opened 10 months ago in Andersonville, shifting its focus to selling vinyl music over CDs compared with its old Lakeview location, said owner Scott Jannush.

"This neighborhood just demands vinyl," Jannush said.

It's not just Andersonville, but the country as a whole, which has seen a 260 percent increase in annual vinyl sales since 2009, according to the research firm Nielsen.

Chicago only accounts for 3.1 percent of all types of music sales — physical or digital — but accounts for 9.1 percent of the United States new vinyl sales, according to Nielsen data.

The new and bigger stores that opened here in the past year have added to Chicago's increasingly growing status as a destination for vinyl.

"It's a melting pot. ... People come internationally to Chicago to buy records," said Shuga Records owner Adam Rosen. "They know they need to come to this street" referring to the Wicker Park stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, home to three of the city's record stores.

In 2011, Shuga closed its Minneapolis store and moved its operation to Chicago.

Initially just an online store run out of a Garfield Park warehouse, Shuga opened its Wicker Park storefront in February.

The new store has proven successful and being in Chicago has a lot to do with it.

"We've sold more in one month of being here than in seven months in Minnesota," Rosen said.

Part of the success is because Chicago simply has more people than Minneapolis, but it's also a draw for the type of people who like vinyl, Rosen said.

According to the official Record Store Day website, which lists the 1,400 independent record stores participating in this Saturday's annual celebration of vinyl, Chicago has 35 such stores. (That's a close second to New York City's 36.)

See our guide to Record Store Day 2015.

Concentration of stores matters, said Rosen, whose store is just minutes from the new Reckless.

Rather than create competition between stores in Chicago, proximity creates a community in which people who can't find what they want at one store can be referred to another.

"If someone leaves our store empty-handed, what harm is it going to do to send them to another record store where they get what they want?" Rosen said.

Matt Jencik, who buys the records for Reckless — where he's worked since 1999 — has seen Chicago shift into a vinyl town.

"Its biggest change is the awareness the average person has for vinyl," Jencik said. "People used to be surprised that they still made records. That is not the case anymore."

Early in the vinyl revival, Jencik said it was mostly Chicagoans who wanted older records that evoked nostalgia. But that's not the case anymore at Reckless, where sales of new vinyl records account for 40 percent of sales, according to Jencik.

"The thing that is cool about it now is the amount of young people coming in who are just getting into it," Jencik said.

Of course, while a number of the vinyl sales are of new music, it offers a great deal of retro appeal, too.

"It blows my mind seeing how many 18- to 24-year-olds buy Fleetwood Mac," Rosen said.

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