Vinyl Destination

By Harry Backlund

A few days past the November 1 opening of the Groove Store in a small basement space at 55th and South Hyde Park, the record store is still being unpacked: a wet/dry vac sits next to a bucket of caulk and a pile of sheet rock, and stacked crates of vinyl stand waiting to be organized. Under racks of unpacked CDs, a box of records has titles by Ice Cube and Menace to Society, but owner Alexis Bouteville says, “the store has a selection of most everything.”

Bouteville is from France, has a slight accent, and, like most people who work at or run record stores, loves to talk music. An album from the ‘60s or ’70s spins on the checkout counter’s turntable, one of “the oldies but goodies” that Bouteville says are the store’s specialty. “Music from back then is stronger than new releases,” he says. The rap releases are mixed in with a fair amount of ’60s soul, club, and R&B.

“You don’t like Michael Jackson?” a customer asks, trying to sell him some used records by the King of Pop. Bouteville explains that though he does like the King, he doesn’t like to buy damaged records.

“I’ve been coming to Chicago almost 20 years to buy records,” Bouteville says. It was shortly after his first trip in the early ’90s that he opened the first Groove Store in Paris. “In France nobody wants to buy CDs, everybody’s downloading,” Bouteville observes, and the Groove Store there sells vinyl almost exclusively. The new Hyde Park shop is the stateside extension of the Paris location.

Bouteville calls vinyl “a habit”, and he’s counting on it. It’s largely because of a recent surge in the popularity of vinyl in recent years–Nielsen SoundScan reported a 33 percent increase in vinyl sales in 2009, with two out of three sales occurring at independent music stores–that small record stores remain viable in the digital age. “More and more customers went online because it was easier, cheaper,” Bouteville explains. “[But] they miss something, being by themselves in front of computers…the record store has a role to play in society, putting together people who love music.” The overall decline in physical music sales has taken its toll on the local record scene. Dr. Wax, a record store that was widely considered a Hyde Park institution, closed its doors earlier this year after 20 years of business.

Joe Wroblewski, a manager at Hyde Park Records, says having Dr. Wax just over two blocks away was good for business. “Having two record stores is a reason for people to come from the North Side.” Between Dr. Wax’s closure and the Groove Store’s opening Hyde Park Records, has been the neighborhood’s only record store.

Wroblewski says there has never been any record store rivalry in Chicago (Reckless Records, Dusty Groove, and the Jazz Record Mart being three of the biggest). “It’s great to have other stores,” he says, and rather than competing the city’s record shops seem to have a friendly relationship with one another: employees shop in each other’s stores and know each other by name.

“I love this Hyde Park Records,” Bouteville says, recalling that the store was one of the first places he went to when he first came to Chicago looking for records 20 years ago. At that time, Bouteville says, Hyde Park was the best place to find records: there were three or four stores in the ‘90s, but these failed because they didn’t adapt to the internet.

We can’t know whether the Groove Store will establish itself as a local institution, or whether Hyde Park Records can continue to hold its own against larger retail stores and digital music downloading, but it’s clear that something is at stake: music with a human connection. It’s clear from talking with Bouteville that each one of the records that will eventually be unpacked from the stacks of crates around him has a story and a significance that goes beyond it’s track listing. Bouteville, and his colleague-competitors at record stores across the city, have faith in the physical form of music that can be held and spun. “People need it,” Bouteville says. “They need this kind of place.”

The Groove Store, 1703 E. 55th. Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm. Sunday noon-6pm. (773)938-0073. Hyde Park Records, 1377 E. 53rd. 11am-8pm. (773)288-6588