Chicago is arguably one of America’s (and probably the world’s) top two or three cities for independent record stores. Most cities would surely love to have one store on the level of Chicago’s Reckless, Permanent, Dusty Groove or Dave’s, but they’ve got all those and more. And when you throw the relatively young saki into the mix… shiiiiiiiiiiit. Basically if you’re a record goon like us and you’ve never been to ‘Cago (that’s what the locals call it*) you need to get your ass in gear.
I spoke with saki’s guru Adam Hirzel and I must say, I’d be hard pressed to find someone as well versed in record stores as this dude. From Buffalo to LA, from NYC to Australia, he’s been around so it’d likely behoove us to listen.
1. Tell us briefly about your store.
saki is a record store, performance space & art gallery in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. Our goal is to further the local music & arts scene in Chicago by providing a space for performance, discussion, appreciation, and yes, sales of music, art, books & anything else we think is “totally awesome.”
2. What got you into the independent record store business?
Carrot Top Records & Carrot Top Distribution have been around for over 15 years as an independent label & distributor in Chicago. saki, the store, is just a continuation of the independent spirit of those companies. In fact, saki has been the name of our mail order site for years. Now it’s just a physical place where we can do so much more than just sell records!
3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
We’ll skip the ones in Chicago, because it goes without saying that we love them & what they do for the music & arts community in this city, not to mention that we have employees who have worked at several of those stores in the past. We have a soft spot for Rainbow Books & Music in Delaware. They’re as mom & pop as you can get & they’re really the only decent place left to buy quality records & books in the state of Delaware. Also, our manager, Adam used to be the manager there, so that’s certainly part of it… there are so many others, but Stormy (Dearborn, MI), Rotate This! (Toronto, Canada), Moogy’s Mobile Record Store (Australia), Spiral Scratch (Buffalo, NY), Park Ave (Orlando, FL), all of the Amoebas, Academy in Brooklyn & of course, Other Musi are up there among the favorites.
4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Obviously, having a physical record store, or any retail store, in 2012 is a challenge, but saki has been open for just under two years, so we were well aware of that challenge when we started. I think we’re just starting to get over that two-year hump where things are looking much, much better. Both Record Store Day’s that we’ve been around for have been a huge boon for us. We use that day to highlight the kind of community-involved events that we really do week in and week out. We just do it on a much larger scale for RSD. That always gets us a lot of positive attention. We’re in a city where there were already so many great stores, and there are even a few that opened around the same time as us, and not too far away, so works as both an advantage and disadvantage. People are so accustomed to having great stores in town, that it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to have one more, but a lot of people probably just go to their closest store for regular shopping. Either way, things are looking up and we can’t wait to see how it all works out!
5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
I think record stores have to make more of an effort these days to remain relevant as cultural centers and not just retail stores. That’s inherent in saki’s mission to be a performance space where people can gather and appreciate art & music. Hopefully that translates to sales as well, but our main goal is to promote the community. I think you see a lot of stores these days carrying “boutique” items and not just books & music. Shelves full of records are exciting, but in this day & age, I think people want to see something more.
6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Well, in-stores are essential to what we do, so we appreciate it any time a label helps us to get one of their bands in the store. Most labels will offer us the option to return copies of an item (especially vinyl) that would normally be non-returnable if their artist is playing an in-store. In-stores are a great opportunity to sell a few more copies of a band’s releases, so it works out for both the store and the label. We also love to do ticket giveaways, or special promotions, so it’s always nice when a label is willing to help us out with that and throw us a few guest list spots or some signed items to give away.
7. Why do we need record stores?
Just imagine a world where we can have any music we want available at the click of a button. In many ways that’s already possible, but luckily there are still stores around too where we can have things like in-stores and people can gather to get a little closer to the bands they love, or even just to talk to the person behind the counter about how they share a love of a particular artist. Without record stores, we would all be like the amorphous blobs in Wall-E, scooting around on our little hover chairs, listening to music in our headphones and interacting with the rest of the world on a touchscreen. Again, doesn’t sound that far off from what we already do, sitting in our homes with laptops & iPads, but just imagine that world and imagine not having the ability to go somewhere and interact with a human being. That’s scary! And yeah, I referenced Wall-E…
9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
A band out of Baltimore called Lands & Peoples just put out a really nice debut LP. It’s limited to 300 copies and we’ve still got a few at saki! I also really like that Lee Fields LP on Daptone’s Truth & Soul imprint & then there’s that El Rego reissue, also on Daptone, that I’ve been spinning in the store a lot lately.
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…”
Honestly, I’m kind of conflicted on this, but I guess I like that saki doesn’t look like your typical record store. By that I mean we don’t have a bunch of promo posters all over the wall and stuff like that. It’s a pretty clean & modern looking store. I like that, but I also kind of miss the old-school look too. So, it’s both my favorite and least favorite thing in a way.
11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
We’re already planning on expanding to have more of a “boutique” selection with toys, jewelry & all other sorts of knick-knacks, mostly from local vendors. The next step after that is to put in a small cafe, I think. None of it is official yet, but I’d say the boutique expansion is the short-term goal & the cafe is the long-term. Both short and long though, we just want to sell records and meet awesome people. So far, so good!