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Wicker Park's Shuga Records Getting Bigger Thanks to Vinyl, Cassette Sales

By Alisa Hauser | February 10, 2016 1:45pm | Updated on February 10, 2016 4:17pm
 Shuga Records, 1272 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Shuga Records, 1272 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — As a slew of Wicker Park businesses close up shop, Shuga Records is about to get bigger after only a year in business. 

"We are out of space on retail and have so much more inventory," said Adam Rosen, owner of the store at 1272 N. Milwaukee Ave.

In late spring, Rosen plans to double the size of his shopping area, which will go from about 1,400 square feet to 2,800 squarefeet. The extra space will be stocked with new vinyl and cassette tapes, along with a stage for in-store concerts

Shuga, which opened last February, specializes in rare and hard-to-find vinyl and bills itself as Chicago's largest online record store. Rosen has also seen a big demand for cassette tapes. 

Currently, vinyl storage and offices for Shuga's online sales team are crammed into the back half of the store in tight quarters, with stacks of boxes lining the walls.

Beginning in May, Shuga will rent out a 4-bedroom loft apartment above the shop to use for storage and online operations. The relocation will allow Rosen to remove a wall separating the offices from the shopping area and expand the sales floor to the back of the store.

Also, Rosen said the added space will feature a stage that was originally installed in the storied Atomic Records in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Smashing Pumpkins and Frank Black once played.

The stage, which Rosen bought when Atomic closed, will complement a DJ booth at the front of the shop and allow touring bands to do in-store performances, similar to what nearby Reckless Records at 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave. has been doing for years.

While digital album sales are losing market share to digital streaming, vinyl record sales continued to climb in 2015, increasing by 28.9 percent over 2014 and accounting for almost 9 percent of total physical album sales, The Advocate reports. Cassette tapes are also seeing a resurgence.

Rosen, who currently sells new cassettes such as Ryan Adams' "1989," a reinterpretation of Taylor Swift's hit album, said that once the expansion is complete, the cassettes section "will be gigantic" and showcased in glass cabinets with sliding doors along a wall.

"We get pallets of cassettes and have no room for them [in the store]," Rosen said.

Since opening, Rosen has grown his staff to six full-time and two part-time positions and plans to add at least two more jobs in the spring.

"My fiancee has been ... awesome, she understands. For the past 15 years I have been the one taking risks; now my landlord was like 'I know you can do it,'" Rosen said, referring to the fact his landlord supports the plan to add office space on the second floor.

When asked how Shuga Records is surviving when other stores such as Wilbilly's in Lincoln Square and Downtown's Jazz Record Mart are shuttering, Rosen said it's about making sure the inventory caters to what customers want.

"It's 100 percent [about] what you're deciding to offer. If they are not going to carry Adele or Taylor Swift, they are going to fail. We carry everything, even death metal doom [band] bong ripper, " he said, referring to a Chicago-based instrumental band whose 12-inch colored vinyl records feature what Rosen describes as "Satanic-cool art" on the cover and costs $30.

Rosen also said he keeps special inventory in stock for locals who stop in the brick-and-mortar shop.

"If we get a limited press of [a] David Bowie record, it will only be for the Chicago market," he said. "The exclusive stuff will never hit our website."

He also said young people are willing to fork over more cash for the new stuff. 

"In the past, kids weren't just coming in and dropping $30 for one record, they were getting a bunch of old records for $30," he said.

Other Wicker Park music retailers, including Reckless Records at 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave. and Dusty Groove, 1120 N. Ashland Ave. have also said they've seen noticeable increases in cassette and vinyl sales.

"New records are very expensive now, so you can still get something retro and cool in the form of a cassette for, say, $1.99," longtime Reckless manager Melissa Grubbs told the Tribune last month.

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