The first thing you notice at Logan Square record store Saki is that it’s not what you expect. Stereotypical 1990s music shop traits—graying carpet, the faint smell of coffee and cigarettes, a snotty vinyl buff manning the cash register—are nowhere in sight. This is the 21st-century version: clean wood floors, inclusive events and nice, fresh-faced staffers (albeit, also vinyl buffs).
One of those employees, Matt Byrne, appreciates it when I observe the absence of carpet. “We want to be more than a dingy record store,” says Byrne, the warehouse manager and “events guy.”
Saki opened in 2010, and from the get-go began planning events, such as monthly art exhibition openings and in-store performances. In the last few months, a new After Hours series has featured a strange mélange of happenings, including a music show at which Saki encouraged audience members to alter their listing experience by pushing on a fleet of guitar pedals hooked up to the instruments. The After Hours Christmas party attracted the largest crowd yet: Wheel-mounted record bins were pushed back to make way for tables of Goose Island drinks and cookies; a cardboard-walled, strobe-lit “Christmas freak-out room”; three bands; and 75 onlookers.
In Chicago, Saki isn’t the only local record store to take advantage of its space by throwing hybrid events. Three such stores exist in Logan Square alone. Logan Hardware, a record shop that opened in 2010, houses an entire arcade of nostalgic games, including classics like Ms. Pac Man and Frogger. Last year, it invited the public to watch gamer folk-hero Steve Wiebe beat his record-setting Donkey Kong score. Also opened in 2010, Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records hawks low-priced rock, punk and metal vinyl alongside used science-fiction tomes. The store hosts semimonthly events, such as a wizard music dance party featuring three bands playing Harry Potter–themed music to a crush of people aged 7 to 70. “I built a hybrid store because I don’t think records can stand alone,” says Bucket O’ Blood owner Marc Ruvolo, who sees events as a way to introduce new audiences to his genre-specific store.
According to Saki events coordinator Tyler Cannon, seeing Saki’s pristine window-clad storefront packed with folks, neighbors decide to walk in. “There’s no signage, really. People say, ‘I walked bythis place a million times,’ ” Cannon says.
Even though all three stores saw steady foot traffic when I recently stopped by, their staying power can partly be attributed to another business facet: Both Logan Hardware and Saki act as the storefronts for indie distribution companies, and Bucket O’ Blood grew out of Ruvolo’s label Johann’s Face Records.
Inside Saki, I notice boxes of vinyl—waiting to be distributed by Carrot Top Records—piled up in the back room. Staffers tell me that the owner of Carrot Top Records and Saki, Patrick Monaghan, encourages in-store events for the love of creativity. “He says, ‘Don’t hurt anybody and let me know how it goes,’ ” claims Cannon. “Events just come down to me thinking, Wouldn’t that be great?”
On Friday 20 at 8pm, a recurring After Hours event dubbed “Predictive Gaming for Substandard Films” features a B-movie screening. Occasionally Cannon will press pause and offer alternative story lines; viewers bet on the outcome, which, Cannon says, is surprisingly difficult to predict. Here’s one unbelievable outcome: In the ailing music industry, a record store does gangbusters by showing movies.
Saki (773-486-3997) is located at 3716 West Fullerton Avenue.