From the minute we floated the idea of a blog that pays tribute to Chicago record stores of the past, one of the first and most frequently requested stores has been The Quaker Goes Deaf. For a shop that lasted just 5 short years, its legacy looms large to this day.
The store – located on the North Ave side of Wicker Park’s iconic Flat Iron Building – opened in 1995, when the neighborhood’s reputation as arty and edgy was riding a late peak, and its time there pretty much spanned the last few years Wicker Park was still affordable enough of a place for artists and outsiders to live. Specializing in all kinds of indie music, imports and collectables --from rock, to punk, to underground dance music, to rare psych and well beyond -- it was the right store, in the right neighborhood, at the right time.
Founded by Mark Swindle, Elisa Keir and Charlie Edwards – and employing a pretty cool roster of people who’ve done a lot of cool things before and after their time at TQGD – if anyone in particular is THE Quaker, it’s Charlie. Look for comments about The Quaker Goes Deaf and you'll see things like...
“Charlie rules! Met him back in 83 or so in Champaign. Him and Rick Simms opened my eyes wide to the beauty of a whole new world. Thanks for all the great recommendations, Charlie!”
“Want a clue? See Charlie. Alternative, live, punk, noise, new, old... All good. Knowledgeable or novice. You're among friends.”
"When I moved to Bucktown in late ‘93, I found this store tucked into the northeast corner of the Flat Iron Building. The owner, Charlie, had impeccable taste + I was usually able to find the most interesting imports that I was looking for. Charlie had been around + knew his stuff, but he was also very friendly + up for chatting. It seems like the store didn’t last all that long, but it was glorious while it lasted."
The Quaker Goes Deaf is legendary for their in-stores, with some really legendary figures having played in the shop. We reached out to Charlie for his take on the shop and few fave memories:
"I had always dreamed of opening my own record store. I was part of a group of people who opened a "not-for-profit", "hippy" record store in 1968 after graduating from Illinois State University. We originally opened it in Normal, Illinois under the name "Student Stores". Later the name was changed to "Divinyl Madness" and a second store was opened in Champaign/Urbana near the University of Illinois. Both stores closed a few years later. I then became a buyer for Record Swap in C/U (Note: Record Swap was a once mighty but small chain of south suburban shops, plus the central IL location, and we'll profile them soon!), before moving to Chicago to be a wholesale music buyer for Kaleidoscope International Record Exchange in Des Plaines. After that, I helped open the first Reckless Records location and was the original buyer for that store. Later, I briefly worked as the buyer for Wax Trax when they were located on Damen Avenue in Wicker Park, until Elisa and Mark approached me with the idea of opening a record store, resulting in the birth of The Quaker Goes Deaf. From the beginning our goals were: 1. Bring in music that other stores were not making available at the time, particularly imported items and things that had not yet become popular. 2. Hire a knowledgeable and friendly staff who loved what they were doing. 3. Create and unusual and "edgy" environment to shop in."
"We had SO many cool in-store appearances and, yes, they were just as epic as you might expect. In part, this was because of the intimate set-up. The store was medium-sized at best and you had to walk directly next to the front door stage just to get in. Nobody was very far from the band when they played. CORNERSHOP and SOUL COUGHING were the two which drew the largest crowds at the time; the store was literally packed full, with people standing outside the front window looking in. Picking personal favorites would be really difficult. One of the events I remember most (and, unfortunately, I don't recall any of the specific bands involved) was when we had a mini metal band fest. At least a half-dozen metal bands took turns on the stage (or tried to, anyhow). The event was cut short because somebody (one of the local businesses, I think) called the cops and filed a noise complaint. They told us we had to shut things down, which we did when they came back a 2nd time and said "stop right now or you're going to jail". Fun times! And I'm pretty sure it was TRAILER HITCH that went crazy, running atop the glass counter and over record bins while belting out songs. That one was really fun, but a bit destructive. My favorites would include FU MANCHU, BARDO POND, BEVIS FROND, ROBYN HITCHCOCK, THE MELVINS, LOW, and DANKO JONES. Yeah, it was pretty cool."
Alas, all good things come to an end, and in the Quaker's case it wasn't just rising rents in the neighborhood, but a bonafide Act Of God (and/or bad building maintenance) hastened the end. Around 1998 a devastating flood nearly destroyed the store. Here's Charlie again:
"The flooding issue was, without a doubt, what killed the store. At the time that happened, around our 3rd or 4th year in business, our reputation was spreading and we were just beginning to become profitable. The flood (an "accident" when a hired worker inadvertently busted a water pipe on the floor above the store while rehabbing the space) destroyed approximately 95% of our inventory, plus all computer records of sales, album descriptions, accounting, etc. Since half of the inventory was composed of used collectibles, it was not replaceable. All of the record and CD bins were full of water and so much soaked into the wooden floor boards that they warped up like waves--in some cases more than a foot high! The whole space had to be re-built. Insurance took a long time to come through and was barely enough to cover losses. Meanwhile, we had to find another temporary location to do business. We moved a few blocks away to an address with much less foot traffic. Despite signs in the window of the original location, many customers could not find us or thought we had gone out of business. And the temporary location simply was not as inviting to customers. By the time we were able to get back into the original space, we had lost too much of our customer base and were unable to rebuild the momentum. We struggled to regain profitability for a year or so, but the dream was over. It was cool while it lasted, though!"
And if you've every seen TQGD tees in Utah...well, maybe it's some folks who shopped at and loved the store. Or...
"During our last few weeks of business, as we were closing up the store and selling off the remaining inventory, we were visited by a group of actual Quakers from Utah. We had a fun conversation about the name of the store* and they ended up purchasing all of our remaining t-shirts. So, somewhere in Utah, there are a bunch of Quakers running around wearing "The Quaker Goes Deaf" t-shirts!"
The Quaker Goes Deaf closed for good in June of 2000, but it lives on in sound and spirit! Just as he did before the store, Charlie Edwards uses the name for his radio show, and you can keep up with it and check out the archives at http://thequakergoesdeaf.
(Photos courtesy of Charlie Edwards. Thanks Charlie!)