Staff at Squeezebox dressed for the occasion. Photos by Shawn Jones
Staff at Squeezebox dressed for the occasion.
Photos by Shawn Jones
Those wondering why crowds were gathered at the corners of Sherman and Main and Davis and Maple on April 13 need wonder know more. The reason was the 12th annual Record Store Day. Crowds waited for Evanston’s two main record stores, Squeezebox on Main Street and Vintage Vinyl on Davis Street, to open for business and the chance to score one of about 500 special-release vinyl records all dropping the same morning across the country.

Chris May of Evanston said he arrived outside Squeezebox at about 2:45 a.m. to be sure he was first in line for a shot at a Jeff Buckley release, a Mission of Burma record, a Jeff Tweedy and a new release by the Maori heavy metal band Alien Weaponry when Squeezebox opened at 10:00. “I’ve been to every Record Store Day since it started,” he said.

Mr. May said the camaraderie and fellowship standing in line made the day all the better. “We are all nerds for the same thing,” he said.

Gunnar Nedreberg stood behind Mr. May having arrived sometime around 6 a.m. from Deerfield by way of Kenosha. “As far as this holiday goes, it has surpassed Christmas” for him, he said. (According to Record Store Day’s official website, several cities, including New York and San Francisco, have declared Record Store Day an official holiday. As yet, Evanston has not.) Mr. Nedreberg coordinates going to different record stores with friends and family to snatch as many particular special releases as possible, he said.

Chris Bock from Buffalo Grove, just behind Mr. Nedreberg, called the day “just enjoyable… I enjoy it to the fullest.” He called vinyl records a “great format.”

Early arrivers all said they enjoyed waiting, talking about records and sharing coffee. “It’s been a breezy three and a half hours,” said Andrew Phelan, fourth in line. Mr. Nedreberg brought a table and stove, which “lit on the first try,” he said, a claim met with guffaws, for fresh hot coffee.

Further back in line, FEW Spirits owner Paul Hletko waited for his chance to pick up some of the special selections. He called Record Store Day “fantastic,” saying, “Small business helps tie the fabric of the community together.”

As opening moment approached, Squeezebox staff emerged and announced, “Welcome to Record Store Day 1719.” All were dressed in period attire. “It’s a challenge to make it fun for the customers,” said Squeezebox owner Tim Peterson. Special releases “are so limited, and everyone is stressed out.” A quick spin through EBay tells some of the story, with limited releases like the Third Man three-inch records already listed in $400 range, and the Tweedy record (Squeezebox got only a single copy) going for about $90.

Mr. Peterson moved Squeezebox from its Chicago Avenue location to the much larger space on Main in July, but Squeezebox has been in business for seven years. “This is all I have ever done,” said Mr. Peterson, who has operated record stores his entire adult life. “It’s been awesome.”

Once Squeezebox opened, customers lined up at a window in the back corner of the store, where staff doled out record after record to waiting customers. Most moved to the register in the west room with piles of new records to meet again and talk about what they got. “My wife is going to kill me,” said one, his stack larger than agreed upon.

Over on Davis Street, Vintage Vinyl opened an hour later, at 11 a.m. Tim Breitberg, who has worked at VV for 20 years, said RSD “brings in a lot of people.” The band White Wolf Sonic Princess, set up on the Davis Street sidewalk, began playing at 10:45 a.m.

“Kids can hear anything any time,” said Mr. Breitberg. “When they buy on vinyl it is because it is super important. They buy a record because they’ve heard it and they love it.”

Steve Kay, owner of Vintage Vinyl, had a brief but emphatic comment about Record Store Day: “It’s awesome.”

Down the street a bit, at Audio Consultants, salesman Sam Canzona, said that while turntable sales “never went away,” they experienced a “real surge” over the past four or five years. “A 50% increase,” he estimated. “Maybe more.” Their entry level turntable from Pro-Ject runs about $400, he said, with the higher end models going for up to $20,000. “That’s midrange at this point,” he added, as serious audiophiles can pay significantly more for the purest sound.

Shortly after 11 a.m., Vintage Vinyl opened its doors, and the public streamed in past the bins of exclusive Record Store Day releases. The first several customers left empty handed, though. For some, it is about the quest – the search for that special release record only available in one of the 1,400 or so select independent record stores across the county. Or, in fact, the world. Record Store Day is celebrated on all continents except Antarctica, according to the official website.

Those who missed the holiday in 2019 must wait. Record Store Day returns on April 18, 2020, and every third Saturday in April thereafter. “This is great exposure for the store,” said Mr. Peterson later that afternoon, after the crowd thinned out. Boxes of RSD releases still remained.  They will be there for customers until they find record-collection homes.