Chicago vinyl stores spin into decline

(Photo: Racks of vinyl at Dave's Records in Chicago. Credit: Brandon Ousley)

(Photo: Racks of vinyl at Dave’s Records in Chicago. Credit: Brandon Ousley)

Inside the Oak Park music store Val’s Halla Records there are rows of vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs. Glancing at the store’s diverse selections, you might believe it’s resilient.

But, it’s one of the many record stores in Chicago in bad shape, and possibly closing its doors soon.

“We also, like a lot of record stores, are in a crisis situation that was begun with the whole world of downloading,” says Val Camilletti, the owner of Val’s for 40 years.

According to Camilleti, a fundraiser is being held to help keep its doors open.

“It’s because we have already an extraordinary selection of used vinyl, and not enough of a selection, at this point, of new vinyl that there is a campaign going for us to raise some funds, so that we can be prepared even immediately for this Christmas season,” she says. “Our focus is to pay down some of the debt that we already owe to our distributors, in order to be sure that we’re positioned well to take care of the customers.”

Like Camilleti, many record store owners have tried to keep the vinyl business afloat in Chicago. But, vinyl retail is dwindling in digital times.

“Some of those record stores, when they made the switch from vinyl and cassette to CD, they made it completely,” says Camilletti. “They let go of their vinyl stock. That’s the thing we never did.”

According to Camilletti, the challenge of keeping vinyl retail afloat is finding the cash to keep records in the racks.

“People always had an option, they had an option of either cash or trade,” she says. “Because of this horrible cash crunch, we have not been able to pay cash as frequently or generously as we would like to.”

Dave Crain, owner of Dave’s Records in Lincoln Park, says the decline of CD sales caused problems for stores.

“A lot of the stores that have closed were probably a mixture of CD and vinyl, and part of what happened to those stores was the bottom fell out of CD sales,” says Crain. “A lot of stores that have survived have survived by boosting up their vinyl sales.”

Crain says his store doesn’t retail CDs because of the sound and value of vinyl.

“It is the perfect time for vinyl,” he says. “When CDs took over, a lot of people got the impression that they just didn’t make vinyl anymore, which wasn’t the case. … I think vinyl would still survive, but I think you still need the connection as a record store to the new music that’s coming out as well.”

As Val Camilletti struggles to keep Val’s Halla Records afloat, she says the fundraiser makes her hopeful.

“Part of this campaign is to generate those new customers, especially the young customers, and to give younger customers the idea of what it was like to hang out in your favorite record store,” she says. “Not just to listen to vinyl. Not just to buy vinyl to take it home, but to share in that experience that never happened with CDs. … Those discussions and those stories about the last 50 years of the music industry, since the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Val’s fundraiser will be held at 835 N. Kenilworth Ave., on Dec. 13 from 7-10 p.m.