Compact Discs first appeared as a commercial format for the record buying public in the early 80s, but it took until around '85 to gain a ton of traction, soon to become the dominant mainstream medium. (For a little while...) The Inside Track -- which opened in August of that year at 825 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park -- might be the first local record store with a Chicago address to go all in on the new format, exclusively selling CDs. They should be remembered as a bonafide local pioneer. We reached out to owner David Ash:
Dusty Groove: Was the store founded on the idea of it being the first record store in the city to exclusively sell CDs only? Do you think other stores at the time were too slow to adapt and you wanted to fill a void?
David Ash: I started off as a record store with a small selection of CDs in 1985. (See pics below.) I was right on the cusp and there was not a lot to choose from in the CD world. That changed fast and as CDs became more readily available I carried more and more. After a short while it became apparent that people were going to replace their record collection with CDs. I went all CD after a year or two and changed the logo.
Looking back at news of the rise of CDs and CD players at the time, the writing was on the wall and even "vinyl forever" purists -- then and now -- have to admit there was a strong niche to fill in '85.
DG: Did you have any earlier experience working at record stores that made you want to open your own?
DA: I collected records from a very early age and was into music as early as I can remember. In college I worked at record stores. When vanity license plates became available in Illinois I chose ALBUMS as my plate. I had a part time job at a used record store after college. I had trouble finding my vocation after graduating from college and eventually decided to open my own store. About a month after I decided that this was my path I had a location, fixtures, stock and opened in August 1985.
DG: Did the store have any specific genre specialties, or was it more-or-less eclectic?
DA: I carried all genres of music from classical to jazz to soundtracks, international music, world music, country and of course rock and alternative. My specialties were older R&B and jazz. The hits and pop paid the rent and it was important to have something for everyone. There were lots of places to buy music and if someone could not find what they wanted or left with discs that they did not like they could easily go elsewhere next time.
The Inside Track held strong in the neighborhood for 12 years. Their stretch of Armitage Avenue, affordable at the time, is nowadays laced with upscale boutiques that can open and close with alarming speed thanks to terrifyingly high rents. With that in mind and with our own knowledge of the encroachment of big businesses on indie record stores at the time we had to ask...
DG: What brought about the end of the store? It seems like the most common reasons for stores closing in the mid-to-late 90s were big boxes and chains aggressively lowering prices, rising rents, or a combination of the 2.
DA: Best Buy and Circuit City selling the hits at below cost certainly did not help the bottom line. Tower took away some business. The real reason CD sales started slumping was that people had finally replaced their record collections with CDs. The large volume sales had ceased. My yearly sales were going down and rent had quintupled in twelve years. The final straw was when a good customer came into my store and was raving about the CD burner he had just purchased. He could make perfect copies of CDs. I saw the end of the line.
David got out the record store racket, but he's an independent business man through-and-through, keeping himself busy over the years in the secondary steel and tubing business and more.