Friday, May 6, 2011

Record Service

Founded in 1969 as a record-buying co-op, Record Service stood at 621 E. Green Street, Champaign, Illinois, less than a block from the University of Illinois — “in the heart of Campustown,” as the card’s flip side puts it. Record Service was a very good record store — I always found something unexpected and worthwhile when browsing there. I remember making premeditated purchases too: Robert Johnson’s Complete Recordings (1990 — LPs!), Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (1997), Louis Armstrong’s Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (2000). Sony’s Armstrong set was a disaster, with execrable remastering and shoddy cardboard sleeves that left glue all over the discs. The store gave me credit, which I immediately spent on CDs to replace some worn Thelonious Monk LPs. Thanks, Record Service.

You can guess where this post is going: Record Service folded, in 2004. Figaro’s, a sister store for classical records at the same address, one flight up, had folded sometime earlier. Here’s a photograph of the way they were. 621 E. Green now houses a sushi restaurant on its first floor, townhouses above.

It was in Record Service that I first had the feeling that perhaps I was getting a little too old to be frequenting record stores. I never let it stop me. I wish I could still walk in and feel slightly out of place.

Further reading
Profile of Record Service owner Phil Strang (
Profile: Record Service (CMJ New Music Report)
Figaro’s a Power in University Town (Billboard)
The end of Record Service (CMJ New Music Report)

Related posts
New York, 1964: record stores
Record stores (Relic Rack, Sam Goody’s, J&R)

[I found the discount card while reaching for an envelope in which to stick the water bill.]

comments: 13

Gunther said...

The discount card is beautiful! Thank you for showing it.

I have been a vinyl junkie for many years and reading about the magic of the record stores back then makes me feel a little wistful. Looking for newly released records, talking shop with store owners and other customers, browsing bargain bins, visiting flea markets, discovering treasures ... And at home: Looking even at the smallest details on record and sleeve, listening, replacing the standard inner sleeve by a padded one for better protection, cleaning the record and restoring damaged covers if neccessary, listening, putting rare records in transparent sleeves, talking about the finds with friends, listening together, archiving, searching catalogues and brochures ... I'm a hopeless nostalgic now and then.

But it's definitely easier to relocate with MP3 files.

Elaine Fine said...

Figaro's moved from its separate location around the corner from the Record Service to the upstairs part of the Record Service in 1993, but it didn't fold until the Record Service closed.

Pete said...

I wasted many a pleasant hour there (and at Record Swap, across the street, closer to Sixth). Record Service had a lot of great blues cutout LPs that really fueled my listening back then. It's hard to imagine Campustown now being without a record store.

Michael Leddy said...

Gunther, your nostalgia is fueling my nostalgia.

Elaine, thanks for clearing up the Figaro’s timeline.

Pete, Green Street now has a Starbucks and an Urban Outfitters. Record Swap is still going on University Ave. Your comment made me remember the staircase up to their Green Street store.

Geo-B said...

We had a great record store south of Chicago, Hegewish Records, where they often had an old man at the cash register. When I bought the complete Robert Johnson, he said, "You're really going to like this." It's here that I realized that the happiest customers were those coming out of a record store. They would be holding their purchase with this beatific grin, thinking," I can't wait to get home and play this."

It's Friday and I thought I might get my wife Paul Simon's latest for Mother's Day (too late to order it online). But now that Borders closed, I don't have the slightest idea where I might find a record.

And certainly the fact that I used the word "record" 4 times in this post dates me.

The Subliminal Mr Dunn said...

Well, all I can say, as an Englishman stuck in the wilds of rural France (but then I suppose all wilds are rural), is I wish they had a few Starbucks out here.
Perhaps one day people will feel as nostalgic about Starbucks as you do about Record Service!

Other Elaine said...

Isn't it interesting that vinyl LP's are making a kind of come-back? The sound is better! But record stores are probably not going to return, I suppose.

Adair said...

We still have a great record store, The Princeton Record Exchange, for used lps, cd's, and dvd's. I can't tell you how many vinyl treasures I have found there, sometimes for just $1...The Nadia Boulanger recordings of Monteverdi songs; a 10-inch Blue Note of Herbie Nichols...Thank goodness the store seems to be thriving. In my childhood in DC there was a place called the Disc Shop that let you sample the lp's in little sound booths. The lp's were expensive for the time and had to be handled with the utmost care. I bought my first record there with allowance money: Wilhelm Furtwaengler's recording of the Tchaikovsky "Pathetique"--still one of my desert-island discs!

Michael Leddy said...

George, Adair, thanks for sharing your record-store experiences here.

Elaine, I suspect that printed books will come to resemble vinyl discs — specialty items for collectors. (I don’t see books disappearing.)

Barnaby, I guess the other person’s grass — or streets? — always look(s) greener. :)

the sandwich life said...

awwwww....thanks for the Record Service memories....

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome!

jon said...

Thank you so much for this post. After a recent work trip took me back to Champaign for the first time in years, I was wandering down Green Street and remembering all the record stores that used to line that strip when I was a student in the mid-90s. Record Service was my favorite, but Record Swap across the street also introduced me to great stuff. There was also Streetside Records for a short time (overpriced and a selection that paled in comparison to Service just a couple doors away) and Discount Den further down the street, which didn't have such a great selection but always held cool midnight release sales and sold new releases for $9.99 or less. I remember huge lines waiting for Pearl Jam's No Code and Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie especially.

Michael Leddy said...

Jon, thanks for sharing your Green Street memories here. Record Swap is still in business at a different location. Error Records and Exile on Main Street are recent arrivals that seem to be flourishing (emphasis on vinyl). I went to Exile on Record Store Day and was amazed to see so many people.