Chicago is arguably the best city in America when it comes to record shopping. It seems that in nearly every neighborhood there is at least one really, really fantastic store you absolutely have to check out. Some specialize in focus on hip hop, jazz and funk (the venerable Dusty Groove) while others are a destination for psych records (the previously profiled Permanent Records). And then of course, there are the few Second City retailers that focus solely on vinyl, the best of which (in my humble yet professional estimation) is Dave’s Records. I spoke with Dave’s owner Dave Crain about his love of vinyl, looking toward the future and how some people still use Myspace. I really loved Dave’s enthusiasm and his unique take on things, especially when he said, “We are the temples of musical nirvana trying not to become museums.” Read on.
1. Tell us briefly about your store.
This store has been in the neighborhood since 1976. It was called 2nd Hand tunes and I began working here for the original owner in 1985. He sold it to an internet company called Django’s in 1999 and by 2002 they went bankrupt. Out of the bankruptcy, I bought the vinyl half of the Clark Street location from the company that bought the Django’s assets. I changed the name to the very clever Dave’s Records on Labor Day September 1, 2002. We have been concentrating on vinyl only (7″/ 12″/ LP/EP/ and even some 78’s) since the beginning. The sign on the door says “No CD’s! Never Had ’em!! Never Will!!” We carry an ever changing stock of approximately 40,000 NEW and USED titles. We are a store for the browsing class. If you enjoy wading through the racks, we are your kind of store. But if you need one thing and want to get in and out, we are organized and know our stock availability. After 10 years of labor as the owner, the decision to remain all vinyl has been key to our ability to stay in business. We are an old school store for the new generation that is discovering the wonders of vinyl.
2. What got you into the independent record store business?
As a kid, I tried desperately to get a record store job. I finally got a job in a chain store in Woodfield Mall when vinyl was still the main format and cassettes were about to take over. It was a very corporate environment. Even if I customers were actively requesting something, if it wasn’t in the Top 25 or a sanctioned deep catalogue item, we could not order it even if it was available. It was a frustrating environment with a dress code as well. The district manager and I were at odds over my tri-color Chuck Taylors so I began to look elsewhere. I saw and ad in the back of the Reader and the timing was right because I got a call from the owner who needed some help in the Hyde Park location for some remodeling. I said I could start right away and on the Saturday I started I knew it was the right fit. We were selling James Brown, Funkadelic, Roxy Music and not the latest Night Ranger.
3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Chicago and the surrounding area is fortunate that there are so many great stores. Ones of note that I like in Chicago are Permanent Records, Dusty Groove, Reckless Records, Jazz Record Mart and in the suburbs Val’s Halla Records (Oak Park) and The Old School Records (Forest Park). In the books & record department Shake, Rattle and Read (Chicago) and Squeezebox Books and Music (Evanston). I have seen a lot of stores come and go over the years. When I started here on Clark Street 27 years ago there were 8 stores (CD and record) within a 4 block radius. I admire anyone who can last.
4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
After a pretty touch and go time through the economic downturn, things seem to be rebounding. This generation embracing or at least acknowledging vinyl has been the biggest factor. In the 1990’s, kids that loved music would put there head in the door and see that it was only vinyl and turn right back around. The advent of including the download was a game changing event because then you wouldn’t have to make 2 purchases to get it digitally. Matador was at the forefront of that, so thanks! After this Record Store Day, I would say I am very optimistic. Through the economic downturn I was staying cautiously optimistic after each Record Store Day. Let’s throw caution to the wind and be optimistic!
5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
The survival of an independent store is tied to having an identity. Our identity is vinyl. We live it. We breathe it. And when Jack White makes the edible limited Third Man Record, we will eat it and have musical toots! All record stores that survive know who they are and who there customers are. If you are unsure of that, you make missteps and try to be something that you are not and slowly lose what you originally had. When you walk in Dave’s Records, you know that we are broad based in genres. There is nothing we won’t carry if think we can sell it. Everyday we try and make this the store that I would’ve liked to come into when I was beginning to get musically literate. Endless possibilities to dream and reach for. Classical-Yes! Reggae- Yes! Vocal-Yes! Hip Hop-Yes! Metal-Yes! Folk-Yes! Country-Yes! Rock-Of Course Yes! Jazz-Yes! Soul-Yes! Klezmer-Yes! You name it on vinyl and we try to say a loud and hearty YES!!!! We like being a YES store. We may not always have it in stock but we are always trying and at some point have we had it in the store-Yes! CD’s on the other hand-not so much!
6. What are some of the coolest things labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Record Store Day is really the biggest instore thing we do. We aren’t really set up for instores in this space. Last year we had the band “I Was Really Destroying It” for Record Store Day and that was great. This year though we reached capacity and I don’t think it would be possible to squeeze a band in. We are always open to new things but the records are our main focus day in and day out. I keep my eye on the spinning black circle. I been hypnotized!
7. Why do we need record stores?
We need record stores to fulfill our musical dreams in real time. Looking at internet pages of product and clicking a button even on our rarest desired record and then receiving a package days later will never replace flipping through a bin and discover that same thing – or even better something you never imagined – and walking home with it. That is what a record store does; it moves our imagination from what we already know. Artwork of a band you don’t know or a song on the stereo that perks your ears up and makes you say, “What is THIS?” is the real world brick and mortar experience. We are the temples of musical nirvana trying not to become museums. We are a space for the living passage of music from generation to generation.
8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Breakfast taco, naturally! After I got back from SXSW in Austin I started each day with one bacon and one chorizo breakfast taco.
9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Top 3 newer albums I can’t get off the turntable would be The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel, First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar, Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
My favorite thing about having a store is selling someone a record and having them say “You made my day!”. Having someone type Great Seller A++++ is not the same. My favorite thing about the physical store space is the smell of vinyl. I love the smell of vinyl in the morning. It smells like VICTORY!
11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Short term my goal is to more effectively use social media. Since the second year of Record Store Day, we began with MySpace (I’m older, OK), then we moved to Facebook, then we set up a blog on WordPress, and before this SXSW, I got a smartphone and set up a Twitter account. Like most things they are only tools and I am just figuring out how to efficiently use them to get info out to customers. Balancing it with running the store is the hard part. Long term is to keep the store open. Some goals are always the same.