If you've never been to Chris and Heather's Record Roundup and Collectibles at 2034 W. Montrose, you don't have much time to remedy your situation. Chris Ligon and Heather McAdams are closing down their country-themed LP and tchotchke store and moving to Delaware.
"We'll probably be dreaming about the romantic side of city life," says Heather. "I need a little nature action, though, you know? We're both hoping that we'll get off this hamster wheel. We're gonna get kayaks."
For the last four years, the Roundup has been the place you go to thumb through records, look at half-naked ladies on the old pulp paperback covers, and shoot the breeze with Chris, who's usually behind the counter, maybe reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and playing Wanda Jackson on the turntable. All that's missing are snacks. "You can always go by that store," says Tim Tuten, co-owner of the Hideout, "and just go, 'Man, George Bush sucks,' and Chris goes, 'Yeah, he sucks. You know what he said yesterday?' All day long people come in, spend 45 minutes talking to Chris, and they buy like one record for a buck."
Heather and Chris started the store as an outlet for all the stuff they had accumulated--much of the merchandise comes from their own collections, gleaned from flea markets and estate sales. "My mind goes free in junk stores," says Heather. "We just tried to create a store where we would like to go." Half an hour in the Roundup can yield Johnny Cash's Live From Folsom Prison LP, a cat-sized sombrero, a panel from one of Heather's cartoons, a hand-colored poster of Dolly Parton, a black-and-white photograph of a little girl in a cowgirl dress, and a pulp novel subtitled Life in the Limbo of Lesbianism. Currently for sale are a pair of enormous papier-mache chicken drumsticks.
"Everything here is handpicked," Heather says, and looks at the display case. "Like that stupid jar of colored sand."
"Baby, I got that at the Illinois State Fair," says Chris, pained.
But more than its oddball assortment of records and flea-market finds, the Roundup has become known for Chris and Heather's Li'l 16mm Film Jamboree, its series of concert-and-film-clips nights. Heather has been putting on similar events around town since 1978, and the list of jamboree regulars reads like a list of who's who in Chicago alt country: Kelly Hogan, Robbie Fulks, Sally Timms, Jon Langford, Neko Case, the Handsome Family. Tuten compares the Roundup to "Ernest Tubb's record store in Nashville, where he'd have in-store performances, where Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn got their start."
More simply, says Brett Sparks of the Handsome Family, it was "like playing in someone's living room." The audience sat on folding chairs, and performers' names were occasionally displayed on a Lite-Brite. After the concert there would be a melange of film clips Heather had put together--bits of Tex Ritter's Ranch Party episodes (featuring a very young, very skinny Johnny Cash), old Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials, or trailers for films like The Student Nurses. "They've got all the best aspects of a spontaneous, 'let's put on a show' kind of thing," says Lawrence Peters of the Wichita Shut-Ins, "but they're organized enough that there's some coherency to it." Guitarist and singer Matt Miller agrees. "You feel really good playing at their place. It's a certain kind of audience--really open-minded and attentive."
Like the Handsome Family's move to Albuquerque earlier this summer, Chris and Heather's departure was brought about in part by the increasing financial pressures. "In four years here, our rent has almost doubled," says Chris, "and I can only raise the price of gigantic chicken legs so much." Peters commiserates: "Most of the musicians I know are in their 30s or 40s, and you get to a point where you don't want to keep paying somebody else's mortgage with your steadily increasing rent. So it's not too surprising to me that some people are splitting town."
Not surprising, maybe, but still a loss. Heather calls the store "pretty small potatoes in the country scene," but the Roundup regulars disagree. "If you look at every alt country performer in Chicago, every one of them goes to the Roundup, and every one of them buys records there," Tuten points out. Heather's annual hand-drawn Country Calendar, featuring artists from Pee Wee King to Patsy Cline, has become a staple, as has the accompanying Country Calendar Show. "It's like they're trying to witness for country music wherever they go," Kelly Hogan says.
The last Jamboree, featuring Roni Stoneman (of Hee Haw fame) and the best of the movie clips, will be held at the Roundup on Saturday, September 8, with two shows, at 8 and 10:30 PM. The $10 tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance; call the store (773-271-5330) for more information. After the 10:30 show, audience members will be encouraged to take their folding chairs home. The store closes for good the following Wednesday; until then all merchandise is 50 percent off.
In Delaware, Heather hopes, she'll be able to focus more on her cartoons: "I wasn't getting too many ideas in Chicago anymore." She'll also be working on a documentary about her father, a project for which she recently received an Illinois Arts Council grant. Chris plans to concentrate on his songwriting. They may or may not open another Roundup there.
In the meantime, they're selling on eBay (username: Record Roundup), which comes as small comfort to those who will miss the amiable refuge Chris and Heather provided even more than they will the Colonel Sanders ties and old copies of True Confessions. "What some might consider a store full of 'kitsch' was to them and many others a safe haven, a spiritual retreat from the modern world of disposable culture," Rennie Sparks E-mailed. "Sometimes I went there just to cheer myself up."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/copyright Susan Anderson for City 2000.