Everything old is new again

March 2019 View more

Purple Dog Records co-owners Erin Gavin and Joel Sicker

By Annemarie Mannion

A whimsical statue of a purple dog marks the entrance of a family-owned store just a stone’s throw from the Naperville train station, where avid music connoisseurs hunt through thousands of colorful records and 45s for that vinyl gem they’ve been wanting to add to their collections.

These customers of Purple Dog Records are part of growing trend of people who are purchasing the discs their parents and grandparents used to spin on record players. Sales of vinyl records were 14 percent of all physical album sales in 2017—a whopping $14.32 million that year, which was a 9 percent increase over 2016.

Even as new records go out the door, the store accepts vinyl records for resale from people who are downsizing or getting rid of collections. We chatted about the business with Joel Sicker, who co-owns the store with his daughter, Erin Gavin. Sicker’s son, Colin, manages the store.

When did the store open?
June 2, 2014. I’d retired after working as an optician from 1971 to 2014. My daughter asked me what I was doing now and I said, “I don’t have any plans.” I’d been selling records to record stores, antique stores, and junk shops, and I had a large collection myself.

When did you start collecting?
I’ve been collecting records since 1957, and I have thousands and thousands at home now. I grew up in Brooklyn and my friends and I used to see what records we could pick up. There were a lot of doo-wop records in New York. There are a lot of blues records in Chicago. I don’t have to bring anything into the store from home anymore, because we have people coming in three or four times a week to sell their records.

What genres of music do you offer?
We have mostly rock records from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. But we have a wide variety: jazz, blues, heavy metal, punk, soundtracks of movies, and musicals. And we have a lot of 45s.

What types of music don’t you accept for sale?
We don’t sell classical, country, easy listening, or world music. There isn’t much demand for easy listening from the ’50s: Liberace, Mantovani, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller. There’s probably a lot of stuff from the ’50s, and 78s, that end up in the dumpster.

Who’s your clientele?
It’s everyone from 12-year-old girls to 75-year-old men. [The older generations] are looking for the things they grew up with. The 12-year-old girls are looking for female role model singers, like Stevie Nicks and Madonna.

What do your records cost?
Most are under $10. We have 20 to 30 that are worth about $200 to $300.

What are your most popular sellers?
The big sellers right now are David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin. It’s like the average baseball fan knows who Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth are. The average, casual music fan has heard of all those people.

What’s the most unusual record you’ve sold?
We sold a spoken-word album that Dr. Timothy Leary made back in the ’60s. He was a proponent of LSD. His saying was “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” It was really rare. We sold it for $100.

How do you price your albums?
We look at condition, artist, and other factors. We also look at Discogs—that’s an online database and marketplace. They pretty much have any record from throughout the world, and what it sold for. We go by Discogs—not eBay.

Why do you also sell compact discs?
There are some people who want CDs. They’re cheaper and they can build a collection. Our CDs sell for $4 to $5. A newly printed album (at a retail store) costs in the high $20s to low $30s range.

Is it true that vinyl records sound better than CDs?
It depends on what you’re playing them on. If you have a real good player, then you get a lot of the deep, rich tones.

What is your favorite musical genre?
I like classic and progressive rock from the ’60s to the early ’70s. King Crimson, Focus, ELO, Emerson, Lake & Palmer—that’s my era.

What else do people like about vinyl albums?
They like the cover photographs and artwork. I have a lot of people who come in and just buy albums for the artwork.

Why do you think people like collecting records?
It’s a thing of the past, but they’re also fairly readily available. You can go into any junk shop and rummage through old records. You can come here, go to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or an antique shop—every place sells old records.

Why did you name the store Purple Dog?
It was just a catchy name—like Led Zeppelin or Iron Maiden.

Photograph by Olivia Kohler