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Raffe’s Record Riot

Photo courtesy: Ruel Gutierrez Apostol

On Cicero Avenue, a mannequin of Elvis Presley peers outside the window, guarding relics of a different time.

That Elvis mannequin is guarding Raffe’s Record Riot. Raffe’s is a dedicated record store that has been lingering around now for 30 years and counting. Even while facing the digital future and despite business slowing down, it has shown no signs of stopping

Around 12 p.m., Terry Nelson arrives at Raffe’s. He cleans up the newspapers dropped in front of the door and opens up shop, waiting for the first customer to buy or trade their old albums in.

Inside the store lie rows of various vinyl, ranging from R&B to metal. Hanging on the wall are various posters and stickers reflecting on the rich history that only music can offer. On the right side of the store, a trumpet hangs on the wall greeting customers to a small room filled with cassettes.

However, most days, there are little to no customers to browsing around.

“It’s been slow here since the start of summer – probably due to the lack of air conditioning we have,” says Nelson laughing.

Nelson is the de facto manager of Raffe’s. He’s looking after the place on behalf of Raffle Simonian, the founder of the store.

Simonian was an English teacher and a basketball coach early on. After amassing a decently sized record collection, he founded Raffe’s Record Riot. Originally located along the Northwest Highway, Simonian moved to the store’s current location 20 years ago.

Simonian’s current health and inability to care for the store, as well as other factors like the weather, a lack of advertising, and vinyl sales slowing down – all combined with the store’s the lack of air conditioning– has caused Raffe’s customer base to decrease.

New vinyl sales fell 9.1 percent in 2016 compared to a surge that occurred in 2015.  While those statistics accounts for used vinyl sales, a sizable amount of stock in Raffe’s is new vinyl.

Nelson stressed the fact that the lack of advertisement is probably the main reason of why their business is seeing a decrease.

They’ve dabbled with Facebook advertising for about 10 days with moderate success but it shortly fell right after they couldn’t secure more funds to keep it up. Facebook advertising costs about $5 per day and Nelson had to personally pay it out of his pocket due to some disagreements with Simonian on how the store’s money should be used.

Nelson said that, to have some decent advertising, they would need more customers to bring in more revenue. But you can’t have more customers without any advertising.

Even with its current issues, Nelson remains optimistic about the future of the store.

“We have a wider selection in certain things compared to [our competition],” Nelson said, “No one has a better folk section than us!”

Nelson believes that the unique selection and their one-of-a-kind store make them stand out above the rest. Additionally, he is happy to see the recent interest in vinyl within the younger generation that attracts curious customers into the store.

He noted that the current customer base they see from time to time are much younger than the “dadrock” generation they use to get.

Nelson believes, though, that more of the younger generation will come back to appreciate physical media.

“You can even place these album covers on the wall,” Nelson said.

To him and to others, physical media is not only a source of entertainment, but art.

Despite the changing market surrounding the store, Nelson strongly emphasized the importance of Raffe’s and stores like it.

“The record store is still the best place to find about music,” said Nelson.

As Elvis peers out the window, someone stopped into the store wanting to trade in some CDs. Nelson took them in with a smile with a story to tell.


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