27 E. Illinois
Back in the mid-90s most local music stores heeded the consensus that vinyl was dead and stopped carrying it—not an unreasonable decision, particularly considering that the major labels had abandoned the format. But a few shops, like Reckless Records and Dr. Wax, refused to give up on LPs, and now the ones that survived are having the last laugh as vinyl sales surge.
But even those holdouts look timid next to Jazz Record Mart, which has brazenly ignored the vagaries of the record business, not only maintaining a huge inventory of LPs during vinyl’s fallow years but continuing to sell records in the long-extinct 78 RPM format. According to manager Ron Bierma, the store has around 20,000 78s in stock. Though most are jazz, there’s also plenty of pop, blues, R & B, gospel, ethnic music, and spoken word. The baseline price is $2.50, but rarities can fetch much more; the store recently sold a 1924 disc by the Wolverines, the band in which Bix Beiderbecke was first recorded, for $95. The best day to browse is on Saturday—that’s when Bob Koester, the store’s sole proprietor since it opened in the late 50s, is usually around. He often hangs out in the back playing 78s for his own amusement on a separate sound system, and if you go find him, you can listen too. The format accounts for less than 3 percent of Jazz Record Mart’s sales, but Koester is still acquiring new collections, typically at a rate of maybe ten sizable caches a year.