Note: I recently wrote this article as part of a neighborhood magazine and thought I'd include it as a blog entry on my website. These guys are class acts working for a great record store.
If you spot a Toyota Venza with the license plate “I BY VYNL” whizzing around the west suburbs of Chicago, consider introducing yourself to Chris (Grey) Ellensohn, who – along with business partner Pete Kuehl – owns Cheap Kiss Records, a store that’s dedicated to buying and selling vinyl and cultivating a love for music for the next generation. Ellensohn and Kuehl want the world to know: records are still a thing.
Yes, records, as in those black twelve-inch platters whose grooves contain the stuff of magic. You may not be one yourself, but chances are you know someone who’s into albums or who laments the collection he traded away for a couple of cases of beer back in the late 80s. Vinyl is making a serious comeback these days, and now accounts for about twenty percent of revenue for physical recorded music formats, and Cheap Kiss is part of the reason.
Chris, who by day works at Northwestern Mutual, started the business with Kuehl ten years ago after winning an eBay auction to purchase Platterpus Records out of Louisville, KY. They changed names to Cheap Kiss Records in 2012 and now have two stores: one at Cornerstone Books in Villa Park and another in Glenview at the Rock House, along with a regular inventory at a Schaumburg warehouse where they conduct on-line business and frequent warehouse sales.
What does a normal day look like in the glamorous world of buying and selling vinyl? Today, Chris is going to meet with an elderly man who purports to own somewhere around 5000 LPs, all in mint condition. Will it pan out? You never know. Chris’s favorite moment is knocking on a would-be seller’s door, because at that point all things are possible. Sorting through a few boxes of musty LPs might just lead to something amazing, like the time Chris found a copy of an album by the local metal band Amethyst, the most expensive record either Chris or Pete has ever sold.
When approaching a would-be seller, Ellensohn is quick to empathize. “We understand that albums can be emotional.” Sometimes a seller can’t pull the trigger, and that’s okay. “They know that when the time comes, I’ll be here.”
Chris claims he can spot a vinyl collector in just a few seconds. What are the qualifications? “Typically a male, age forty to sixty, sporting a concert t-shirt and no females within fifteen feet.” All joking aside, there’s a certain air that vinyl collectors share, and it’s one that Ellensohn knows well he says because he’s “one of them.”
“You meet all sort of cool people, actually,” and he meets them in all sort of places. Chris isn’t a shy guy, and he’s happily approached people at gas stations or concerts to inquire about their interest in vinyl. At a pop-up sale at the Arcada Theatre last month, Pete and Chris met a woman in her sixties who regaled them with stories about her concert-going days, when she witnessed The Beatles at Comiskey Park and a double bill featuring The Who and The Kinks.
Chris and Pete don’t have a goal of amassing copious amounts of records – their aim is more virtuous than that. They view buying and selling vinyl as a way of repurposing LPs and keeping them out of landfills and on people’s turntables. “We want records to be listened to,” says Chris. “Vinyl is meant to be played. It does no good sitting in an attic somewhere.”
And what about vinyl as a medium in a world in which streaming services can provide almost any song at the touch of a button? Chris is reminded of something a young woman once told him: “You should have to work for something this good.” Just as sharing a playlist isn’t nearly as meaningful as creating the mixtapes you once compiled for old flames, vinyl helps the listener connect to the music in ways that streaming can’t.
On April 21st Cheap Kiss Records will host Record Store Day at their Cornerstone Books location.