Merry Christmas to Me (An unexpected trip to Algonquin Records)
So, I found myself on an unexpected, unplanned day trip to the Illinois area, so I ran around and got my stuff done and grabbed two deep dish pizzas before my flight, as I had never been in the area and figured if I was here, I had to try it. So, now I grabbed the quiche you mid-westicans call a pizza…I will hand it to you, I don’t know if I’d call deep dish pizza a pizza… but I would call it tasty, so like the Terminator I’ll be back, or at least ordering up some frozen ones long distance…okay, we got off track there for a second now back to the crux of the story. I’d done everything I needed to get done and had about an hour to kill. I was about two feet from the airport. I opened up GoogleMaps as I would have liked to see the Great Lake (literally just drive-over “see” it so I could say I saw it and run back) but that was a two and a half hour round trip. Trying to think of what could be done to kill some time, that’s when I remembered I had the record store directory I had been building for the unitingwithmusic.org site, and thought it would be cool to use a resource I have put a bit of time in to find/support a local record store. Wouldn’t you know it, the RSDirectory worked, and I had a store listed literally in the town I was in, located 9 minutes away. I called it fate and asked the lady in the box (my phone GPS) to direct me through the old neighborhoods to Algonquin Records.
After what felt like an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods of post-war America roads, I came to the intersection where the store was supposed to be located. Stuck at a red light, I began to survey the landscape. The “Gips” (what I call GPS) showed it right on the corner, and right on the corner was a recently built shopping center. There was no record store in it, though, and I began to think it was another casualty in the record store world. I noticed behind the shopping center a building that looked like a 1980s wood paneling construction. The light went green and I decided to check it out. Little did I know, the store I was searching for was an establishment of the community waiting for those searching for a diamond-in-the-rough, sitting frozen in a way like a time capsule as a staple of the community that was still standing but forgotten by the masses.
As I approached the old brown brick building with matching black wood shingles, the color long since fading on the shingles, the building appeared dead. At this point, I began to voice my disappointment that record stores are dying and soon it will be next to impossible to experience new music, when I noticed a wood paneling sign by the road. It had green shingles atop, the sign large with small white letters that I couldn’t read at a distance. I had it pegged for a park sign but said, “Let’s see what it says.” Sure enough, on the bottom line it said Algonquin Records in white letters, and there was an “Open” sign in the window. Now I was pepped up, and the chase was back on. It was no longer a funeral for an unmet friend but a continuing of a musical adventure.
My goal: to flip through the records until I find a sleeve cover that interests me, buy it, and find out what’s on it when I get home.
I parked out front. The building still looked dead, frozen in time while aging the whole time. However, the sign said “open” and there were cars out front. I’m not one to be shy so I decided to check it out. I sat parked out front for a minute, taking in the store (remember, like two lines ago I said I was debating if it was still a functioning store or not). The records hung on the back of the storefront display for decoration were sun-faded and severely warped from aging in the sun for so long, and the tube-era radios let you know the store has been here for a while. I proceeded to make my way inside, surveying the front of the store with my eyes as I approached the door, still unsure if I was about to yank on a locked door. The store looked like the kind of place that, sadly, most modern-day shoppers would probably rather run away from than go inside and flip through some sleeves. I pulled the handle, and to my surprise, the door opened, and, to everyone’s surprise in the store, I walked through.
As I walked through the door, my senses were punched by nostalgia, the smell that comes from the burning of the dust off of old electrical components mixing with the strong musk of decaying cardboard sleeves that house the records that have aged over time. The sound of an old tube TV playing reruns of (I think it was) The Beverly Hillbillies on VHS provided the store’s audio. As I walked through the door, my fellow patrons and the owner looked over as if to welcome a friend. I was greeted with some unsure looks by the patrons and a cautiously welcoming hello from the owner. I was unsure if this was because they don’t normally get new customers, the bug that’s going around (yeah, that not be named), my impending presence, or any other number of reasons for the owner/patrons alike to analyze why I was there. After exchanging, “Hellos,” I joined the other shoppers in perusing the record sections. I settled into a row of records and joined the hunt.
I was on a sort of time crunch, so I kept reminding myself to stay focused on getting what I was there to find: an interesting album cover to take home and hope whatever music that went along with that cover wasn’t awful. As I flipped through the record sleeves, the sound of shifting plastic and the slapping of said plastic into each other from around the store stopped time and relaxed the soul; I was no longer in a rush, I had all the time in the world. I no longer needed to get to the airport, I was just listening to some good old Beverley Hillbillies programming, partaking in the hunt with my fellow patrons to find the next great thing that’s been missing all this time from our respective musical catalogs.
I had been shuffling through the seemingly endless supply of records for a while, at this point without any results. I stepped back and looked around toward the back of the store. It caught my eye. There it was, sitting in the front and center, in front of me no less, as if it had been waiting there since the store’s hay day for me to come in and pick it up. The stained glass motif on the cover of an album was what caught my eye; it seemed out of place amongst the records it was placed with. I walked over, picked up and begun my inspection of the record as if I was a guy buying a horse in the 1700s (just no using the internet, that’s like checking the teeth and that’s a no-no). It turned out to be a double album of a concert that took place, I believe, in ’57, which is more information than I usually look for when picking up an album. I decided this was the one and picked up Kingston Trio’s ‘Once Upon A Time’, and with that find the rush of the world and the reality of the moment returned to me; I had a flight to catch.
As I turned to head to the register, I was met with the surprise of a section of CDs in front of me that I had overlooked in the haze of the record hunt. In front of one of the rows was Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, an album I had long ago lost to time. At $3, I decided I needed to take it home and that I should look a bit deeper. I flipped through the CDs with the haste of the fact that I needed to get my back-side to the airport quick and I had just found another treasure trove to flip through. As I was getting ready to call it quits, I came across the Blues Brothers ‘Briefcase Full of Blues’ album. Finding it only fitting being in the Chicago area and discovering something more Chicago than deep dish pizza or the wind, I decided to take the album and to call it quits as I had to get a move on it.
With the three albums in hand, I headed to check out. The owner was extremely pleasant as…well, I don’t know… maybe while he was still trying to figure me out, but he was a good guy. By that point he had to’ve figured I wasn’t going to rob him or cause trouble and that was enough for him, which makes him my kind of people. The three albums in total cost me eleven bucks, which I felt was nearly stealing them [so maybe he wasn’t on point with me not robbing him]. Every album in the store was fairly priced, unlike some places that can price gouge or beat you over the head on each individual album, and the store’s records are filed by cost of the album making for some good diving. We concluded our transaction and exchanged our pleasantries, and I hastily made my way out of the store. Pausing for a moment, I had the door open, I turned around to take in the store one last time before exiting, even taking a couple seconds of the ancient TV programming. With that, I exited Algonquin Records joyful that my hunt triumphantly bore fruit, and feeling as refreshed as a Baptist after church.
I returned to the car with my musical trophies in hand, happy I had found this time capsule of a store and happy I didn’t give up at any part of any strange travels that could’ve kept me from this. I jumped in the rental, ready to go to the airport, and that was when I was reminded, I didn’t bring any bags for travel… now how are we supposed to get that on the plane? That in itself is a story, but not the one you’re here for and I’ve taken up enough of your time. Now, get on out there and discover some new music of your own at your own record store. Get out of the norm and have an adventure.
Until next time.
P.S. It sits aside a very picturesque park. I would have strolled though had I had more time. So, if you’re in the area and happen to walk Prairie Lakes Park, then next time you’re hitting the southwest corner, take a stroll off the path most traveled and check out the selection. You won’t regret it.
Digital Music Links –
UWM always encourages supporting of local music shops, though we understand that you need to “keep with the times”. To reflect that we are providing Sotify links for anyone that isn’t into the physical media but still want to hear some of the music mentioned.
The Kingston Trio – Once Upon a Time