Record stores' big hook
Music fans splurge at Chicago shops to celebrate new holiday
04/25/2012 10:00 PM
It was early to be at a record store. Nine o’clock on a Saturday morning isn’t an hour many music aficionados usually see, much less wake up to get in line.
And yet, outside Reggie’s Record Breakers at 2105 S. State St. in the South Loop, there were 15 to 20 people waiting outside when their doors opened two hours before their regular opening time of 11 a.m.
The reason? Record Store Day, a new worldwide event created to drive traffic to small, independent record stores by offering exclusive, very limited edition releases.
Since it was launched in 2008, the event has quickly grown in prominence, partly due to the number of artists that have decided to get on the bandwagon by putting out exclusive music — almost entirely on vinyl. While the first year featured only about 10 special releases, 2012’s Record Store Day last weekend featured more than 400.
And the records aren’t just from small, indie rock stalwarts. This year, the list of acts included exclusives from Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, James Brown, Phish and Metallica, alongside indie mainstays The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, M83 and Sigur Ros.
At Reggie’s, the exclusives have been such a big draw that for the past few years, Record Store Day has set a new record as their best day ever.
“These are easily becoming our best day of the year,” said Jason Magicks, who manages the shop. “They’re releasing more and more cool stuff, and people are willing to spend on it.”
Beyond that, people aren’t just buying the special stuff, he said. Once they got what they were looking for of the rarities, they browsed the rest of the store.
“We sold a ton of used vinyl that day,” Magicks said. “People weren’t specifically only buying the exclusives.”
Further north, Matt Jencik is the head buyer for Reckless Records, a local chain of shops with outlets in the Loop, Lake View and Wicker Park. Reckless, he said, got a pretty wide variety of customers. Unlike Reggie’s, where Magicks said most folks went for the exclusive stuff and then browsed whatever was left, Jencik said that at Reckless there were folks on both ends of the spectrum.
“I think both aspects were represented — people who just wanted to be in a record store to celebrate the day and people who were just there for the promotional stuff, he said. “I sold to some people who bought only exclusive stuff, and some people who bought nothing exclusive.”
Reckless has a reputation as one of the city’s best record stores, and on any given Saturday afternoon the store is usually crawling with customers. But Record Store Day still gave them a major boost. At 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, 15 minutes before the shop opened, the line at Reckless’ Wicker Park location ran around the block from its Milwaukee Avenue storefront, with hundreds of people lined up outside.
For a store like Reckless, the push is great, but they don’t need it to survive. They’ve been lucky to keep a steady stream of business throughout the years, he said.
“We’ve kind of like existed in this bubble the whole time where we just keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re fine, because Chicago has such a great music scene,” he said. “It’s not hard, because there are so many people here who like to buy music. I think where it really helps is in small towns.”
Nevertheless, it’s a great day for them.
“Let’s be honest, a little push for anybody doesn’t hurt,” he said. “All three of our stores did better than the year before. It continues just to get better. If we got, like, 10 new customers who are going to come here for the next 10 years, it’s totally worth it, in my opinion.”
Magicks was more blunt.
“It’s forcing people to go back to independent stores,” he said. “Any record store that isn’t participating in it is insane.”