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Coming up on three years at its location at 743 Main St., and 10 years since it began, Squeeze Box has become a fixture on the local record store scene in Evanston. The shop made it through the past year intact and is going strong. Owner Tim Peterson is still trucking hard after 20-plus years in the business and showing no signs of slowing down.
In a crisp psychedelic Alfred E. Neuman T-shirt, Mr. Peterson carries himself with all the spry wit and youthful enthusiasm of someone who knows what they dig and has an unstoppable love for it all. The shop is a reflection of that spirit in its vibrant, eclectic sensibility and good taste.
He showed a reporter around the shop, stopping off in a little nook at the front to chat for a while. The door was constantly revolving with friendly faces dropping in and happily announcing their arrival. The whole place swirled with music and bright conversation and laughter.
The hazy June evening sun covered the crates of albums as shoppers made their way browsing through the stacks. It felt normal – it was the epitome of a classic vibe in a neighborhood record shop on a sweltering early summer day with anybody and everybody popping by to find something cool. There is certainly plenty of that in stock.
The record stalls are jammed with new vinyl, and there is a deluge of new wares waiting to hit the floor.
Mr. Peterson and his staff have been busy gearing up for Record Store Day, June 12.
The shop will be carrying all the special Record Store Day releases and filling big orders. Special events and live music will be on hold, however. And the general chaos that usually ensues – the delightful frenzied hallmark of the event – will still be considerably toned down this year in light of maintaining practicality, social distancing, and the comfort of customers. However, Mr. Peterson anticipates that it will still be quite busy.
The store will open at 10 a.m. on Record Store Day. All the listings for what they will have in store for Record Store Day can be found on their Facebook and Instagram pages as well.
One thing that the staff at Squeeze Box is known for is its prankster tradition of dressing up in costume for the event, RoundTable readers and regulars might recall from Record Store Days past.
In previous years they have dressed up in outfits as everything from 1950s soda jerks to full blown 15th century English Tudor garb. “Just to go as nerdy as possible, because everyone is so wound up on record store day… The anxiety is intense!” Mr. Peterson said, laughing.
It seems like the perfect strategy to take the edge off the mob of hardcore record buyers and galloping eBay geeks that can sometimes be a stifling and intimidating presence to the average Record Store Day patron or newcomer.
Although special in-store events will be mellow and considerably tame for the time being, Squeezebox staff say they are hopeful that mood will lift and are looking forward to hosting a big blow-out event to celebrate their 10-year anniversary in September.
Mr. Peterson says he sees the 10-year anniversary as a great opportunity to have a big sidewalk sale and clear the house.
It will also be a special occasion to celebrate the success of the shop with customers. Making it to 10 years as an independently owned neighborhood record shop is certainly a small miracle in any city, but having been able to hang tough through the past year most would say is a pretty sweet triumph.
Asked about the dynamics of the past year, Mr. Peterson says, “We made a ton of new friends. And vinyl is off the charts in terms of its popularity. It’s been incredible. People are even starting to get into Jazz again.”
With a minimal staff, Squeezebox was able to keep busy through the pandemic by getting things for customers with curbside pickups and deliveries.
Customers came through with their unwavering support and were a big force to keep pushing things forward. And not surprisingly, with library hours restricted and other resources unavailable, people were eager to seek out some sort of wellspring to connect with new music and literature.
“It was the perfect biz to be in during a pandemic,” Says Mr. Peterson.
But from the moment one walks in the door, it comes as little surprise that there is a community and true score of heartfelt fans that call a spot like Squeeze Box their home base and have rallied around it this past year and continue to do so.
Mr. Peterson is a veteran of the record business and his staff exudes knowledge, friendliness, and enthusiasm. As with the majority of things in life, he has found a sense of humor always helps, no matter how heavy the music might get.
And in a business that at times can be hard and also populated by fossilized dinosaurs and surly rock collectors, patrons find it a delight to meet other music fans and collectors that have a lighter take on it. To those patrons, Squeeze Box is just a flat-out killer record shop. It has all the key elements to satisfy obsessive pickers and casual record buyers alike and there are gems a-plenty for everyone.
In addition to music, the shop also carries an extensive selection of fine literature, both new and used, that practically doubles the space as a bookstore. Slick rotary shelves crammed with old sci-fi and detective pulp share space with shelves of critical theory, art, music history, photography, and more.
Casually spinning a paperback carousel, this reporter came across an old dog-eared copy of “Dune.” Holding it up to the light and thumbing through for the first time in ages, the reporter heard a voice from behind the counter say, “I just finished that yesterday. Good pick.” She mentioned a “Dune” book club to which she belongs.
Record Store Day is a perfect opportunity to partially plunge back into the throng and see some old friends and make some new ones, to talk about great music and check out some beautiful records.
But those who prefer to slip in on a quiet sunny afternoon and enjoy the solace of the shop, Squeeze Box is the perfect spot for just that.