UPTOWN — A concert at the Aragon Ballroom or Riviera Theatre always guaranteed Ric Addy's record and book store one thing: customers.
Music enthusiasts would flood Uptown and eventually stroll past Shake Rattle and Read, walk in and discover books, records, CDs, magazines and DVDs of their favorite artists. But times have changed, Addy admits.
"I think we’ve just had our time and I’ve adapted as best I can," said Addy, who announced last month the bookstore at 4812 N. Broadway will close next year.
On a recent Thursday night, his calendar reminds him that Twenty One Pilots is playing at the Aragon Ballroom, but the shop might as well be closed. There's a regular customer flipping through books in the back and every once in a while someone pops in, browses for a second and leaves.
After 30 years, Addy has seen his collection of music memorabilia cycle into and out of popularity. But what he calls the "subscription and streaming-based world" has been his store's ultimate demise.
"Kindles, iPads ... I'm up against all that," he said. "We had used CDs for a while and that’s really dropped off. Now, people walk in and they go right for the vinyl. Ten years ago, I would sell a lot more CDs. ... There’s still people that like to have a hard copy. But as I get younger and younger audiences going to the Aragon and the Riviera, they don’t even look at them. And maybe 10 or 15 percent buy vinyl."
In January, the store will celebrate its 50th anniversary. When it opened in 1966, it was called the Book Box and was owned by his sister and her husband. After two decades and a lot of pestering, Addy decided, "Yeah, I'll be my own boss," and purchased the store from them in the '80s, he said.
Addy had spent years working in record stores and collecting records, so he decided to add them to the store's repertoire and change its name. When he walked in on Jan. 1, 1986, the walls were lined with bookshelves and in the middle of the store were boxes of books, he said.
"I said 'Well, I gotta do records because I’m a record guy.' I hung around with my sister long enough to know a little about books, but not like I know 30 years later. But I did know records, so I took out all the books in the middle of the store and found some record store that was going out of business and bought these used bins," Addy said, knocking on the old wooden cases still in the store.
"[They're] the same ones that have been here for 30 years. ... Not much has changed," he said. Even the store's sign still says, "Also known as the Book Box," which Addy said he purposefully left "for the old timers."
From years working in record stores around Chicago and Evanston, his vinyl collection had grown to about 5,000 records. He used about half of that to "seed" the store, he said.
"I had to use my own collection. I cut it in half. And I still have about 2,000 left, but I don’t need ten Led Zeppelin [records]," said Addy. As a music collector, "I just bought everything. A lot of times I got them for free. Back then, the record companies would just give you records."
Since then, the world has had technological advances like CDs, DVDs and the advancement of the Internet — all which have pushed him to battle to stay alive. But, he's got no hard feelings about that.
"It goes both ways. It hurts people like me a little bit, but it opens up a whole world of music for people who don’t have the money [and] can’t afford a big record collection," he said.
Addy isn't completely at odds with the Internet culture, and as a longtime business owner, he's learned to adapt. The 63-year-old has spent almost a decade selling on eBay and Amazon with success, and he plans to continue after the store closes.
"I have to be competitive, and why I’ve stayed in business so long is I’ve always adapted like a chameleon to whatever change is happening, technology-wise. Now, I’m just going to be an online seller. I’m going to miss the physical store and I’m going to miss physically talking to people, which I’ve always been good at," he said.
Unfortunately, there's just not enough foot traffic in the neighborhood anymore to keep his brick-and-mortar business sustainable.
"If you walk two blocks this way, two blocks that way and two blocks that way, there’s really not any other retailers... it's not like a shopping zone. So I have to be a destination spot for people," he said.
Since he took over the shop, he had hoped the Uptown Theater would reopen, but it never did. When Borders was just south of the shop, he was doing big numbers, but they left in 2001.
"We’ve never found anyone to take that ground floor of the Borders building... It was actually good for me when Borders moved in," he said. "Borders sold all kinds of extra stuff and that really drew a lot of people to Broadway and Lawrence. When they went out of business, my business went way down."
After working in record stores all his life, he'll receive about $800 a month in social security, but "not enough to live on." So while he's technically retired he will still be working his online retail business. Either way, he said he'd still do it all over again.
"Absolutely. I’ve had 30 years of freedom. I’ve had a great time here. No, I wouldn’t change a thing from the last 30 years," he said.
Inside the store Thursday night, a single customer offers him condolences for the loss of his friend of 40 years, "Wilbur" Sutphin. When the beloved record store owner died in November, Addy was one of the friends interviewed for the obituary in the Sun-Times.
A few minutes before closing time, Addy steps out his store and Broadway is dark and almost deserted. The restaurants open later now because there isn't much foot traffic in the afternoon. A few blocks south, construction blocks traffic from heading north as the CTA works on the Wilson Red Line stop. In a few years, the multi-million dollar construction will move farther north and they'll begin work on the Lawrence stop.
There's no way he'd survive considering "the rents keep going up and sales keep going down," he said.
"At 64, I don't have another seven years to wait for 'L' stops. I don't want to be a 70-year-old behind a counter selling rock-n-roll records," he said.
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