Permanent Records brings a little bit of the Windy City to Eagle Rock
When Record Store Day rolls around next April, there will be a new player in town. Permanent Records, which has been a staple of Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood since 2006, has gone west, as all young record stores should do. Although the Windy City branch remains open for business, owners Lance Barresi and Liz Tooley have relocated to Eagle Rock, where their satellite Permanent Records Los Angeles will stage its grand opening this Saturday.
The music-loving pair, who met at a show for Kansas indie band the Anniversary in 2001, held down record store jobs in Columbia, Mo., before heeding the call of self-employment. In an age of declining music sales and cheap downloads, opening an independent brick-and-mortar shop was a risky proposition, but Barresi and Tooley were running on enthusiasm and vision rather than spreadsheets and market research.
“We didn’t really approach it in a very businesslike manner,” said Barresi, taking a beer break from bin-building and record pricing at the pub a block away from his new shop. “More like, ‘We’re young and we have the energy for this right now, so we’re going to try it.’ And actually we were surprised at how well it went. We worked our butts off to carve a niche out for ourselves. We realized that as long as we picked stuff that we liked personally, even if other people weren’t sure what it was, or if it wasn’t being touted by the blogosphere or music magazines, it didn’t really seem to make a difference, as long as we could tell people what it was about.”
Relying on word of mouth and returning customers rather than advertising, they grew their business to the point where they could stop working seven days a week, hire employees, begin their own label (which boasts 27 releases to date) and launch a successful mail-order branch. By then Chicago’s winters had taken their toll, and they began casting a wandering eye at more temperate climes. A recent visit to Los Angeles led to an Eagle Rock excursion. “We went to go to dinner at Fatty’s but it was closed,” said Barresi. “So we took a little walk up the block and we stumbled across the store.”
“We really liked the neighborhood too,” Tooley said, noting that sleepy Eagle Rock, with its smattering of essential staples of cultural life such as coffee shops, cafes, a bookstore, a comics store and the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, only lacked a good record shop.
Though the retail music business is still an iffy proposition, the pair’s enthusiasm and good-natured charm is likely to give them a good head start as they begin life in L.A. “We’re low-pressure salesmen,” said Tooley. “It comes naturally to us because we’re Midwesterners. We’re super dorks, we’re super friendly, and it’s kind of like every job I’ve had since I was young -- you treat people right.”
“We’re also very cognizant of the fact that we’re not the coolest people in the world,” said Barresi with a grin. “I’ve found that people at record stores sometimes act like they are. It’s so much easier to just be nice.”
Permanent Records Los Angeles will stock thousands of records, CDs and tapes, plus turntables, accessories, and zines, as well as some DVDs. Despite vending a format for almost every taste, they feel most passionately about the vinyl. As the shop’s Facebook motto proclaims, “You can’t put your arms around an MP3.”
“There’s something about having the cool packaging, sliding the record out, dropping the needle,” said Tooley. “It’s very personal. So much better than, ‘I’m going to grab my scratched CD off the floor and throw it in the player.'”
Barresi and Tooley have also decided to part with two-thirds of their personal collection to give the store an added boost. Browsers will find gems such as vintage copies of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1969 Tex-Mex classic, “Mendocino,” British power-punk band the Boys' 1977 debut and sealed originals of obscure early ‘80s New York reggae act Chevron & Flagstone, which features John Zorn on alto sax. New releases will include the new LP from Brooklyn prog-rock act Oneida, Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey’s acid-damaged side project Rubble, the latest psychedelic garage album from Human Eye and the recent reissue of 1972 glammy proto-punk outfit Clap’s one and only album, “Have You Reached Yet,” which Lance describes as “almost like if the Electric Eels were a Stones cover band.”
“We knew we didn’t want to stock a bunch of mainstream stuff if we didn’t have to,” said Liz. “It’s very important for us to sell things that we actually like and can stand behind.”
The store’s grand opening begins at noon on Saturday and features raffles, giveaways, a DJ set from Amanda of local label Not Not Fun and in-store performances from Orange County garage band Cosmonauts and Francis Harold & The Holograms.
-- Jason Gelt
Permanent Records, 1583 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 739-6141. Tue.- Sun. 12-7 p.m. permanentrecordsLA.com.
Photo and Credit: Lance Barresi and Liz Tooley.