Saturday, December 8, 2012
Val's Halla, A Record Store With An Elvis Shrine, In Trouble?
I came across some sad news the other day on Facebook. Val's Hall a legendary Chicago area record store was in trouble and had an uncertain future. It's a place that I spent many long years as a customer and part of the staff. It's the kind of place that the world needs more of so I thought I would share some memories of Val's and Oak Park record store shopping in the early 1970's.
The first thing you need to know about Val's Halla is that it's not a record store. I mean that's what is sold there but Val's is a music store. Because that's what owner Val Camelletti is all about. The music.
Growing up in Oak Park I was more of a movie, TV, being outside playing kind of kid. Music was there but more in the background. So it wasn't until I was in my late teens and discovered music might be a good way to meet girls that I took an serious interest.
In the early 70's when I first started shopping for records there were at least five different places selling records near downtown Oak Park that I can remember. Near Harlem Ave. there was Sound Source which was your standard 70's operation. It was where Five Guys is now or near it. Then a little further east there was a hip clothes place that had pinball and records on the second floor. On the north side of the street was Woolworth s that had “cutout” records.
Further east on Lake st just past Oak Park Ave. was Lyttles. They had these listening booths so the place must have been there for awhile. As I remember they also carried a lot of 45's. Then south on Oak Park across from the “L” station was Val's Halla.
I remembered it as being next to a place that had been a train store with a layout in the window. During the fifties and at leat early 60's. I first went in there when it was all just in the narrow little section the door opened into. It was a couple of years before they would expand into the area that housed the used records. I was looking for a soundtrack to The Man From UNCLE which I had been a huge fan of. And just an aside here but why with every other film & TV series being remade has that show never been updated? Anyway I came away from Val's highly impressed because I found More Music From The Man From UNCLE which I didn't even know existed.
The the next time I was looking for a record by a group I'd read about in Creem magazine called The Dictators. Alan Olson who worked there at the time didn't have it to sell but did have a promo copy that they'd gotten and he GAVE it to me. And from that point on I sold on the place. I mean no one had ever just given me what I was looking for when I went in a store.
And that's because it was more than just a record store it was a place where people who liked music went. And that's because as I was quickly to learn the place was dominated by the personality of Val herself. Who has a great love for music and a healthy suspicion of the trends. For her being in business wasn't about being in business as much as it was about affording her a chance to do something she loves. Buying and selling records for sure but having the opportunity to expose people to all kinds of music and to communicate her passion for it is what sets her apart. It was the kind of place where you would see musicians like John Prine shopping or Clifton Chenier dropping by.
After being a customer for a few years I eneded up getting a job there and stayed for almost fifteen years. It was a lot of fun and Val is a great person to know and work for. And here it is forty years later and she is still living her dream sharing her love of music to the world. But times have changed, so has the music business and the small mom and pop place that survived the transition from records to cds and having to move from a location she'd been in for decades to a place on the other side of town may not survive much longer.
So for those of you in the Chicago area if you want to support local businesses , help fight corporate domination and find some Christmas presents for a music lover this should be a destination for you. Check it out.
Come visit Val’s Halla at 239 W. Harrison St. Oak Park 60304. They are open Monday thru Friday 11 to 7, and Saturday 11 to 5. 708-524-1004
There is also a larger effort ongoing to support Val's and here is a link to another story on OakPark.com that has more information on that.
And here is Val's appearance on public TV's Wild Chicago.