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Chicago vinyl lovers flock to independent shops for Record Store Day

606 Records

Customers look through records Saturday at 606 Records in Pilsen. The store offered new releases, beer and coffee on Record Store Day. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Andrew Mitchell opened the doors at 606 Records two hours earlier than usual Saturday morning.

The vibes were the same at his Pilsen record store as they are most days, he said — just with a lot more people on the internationally celebrated Record Store Day.

“A lot of things get pushed to the side because of Record Store Day,” Mitchell said as a DJ played house music in the tiny store, which was jam-packed with customers thumbing through stacks of albums.

“But we’re bringing [the concept] in to help give extra exposure to those artists who usually don’t get it.”

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Mitchell, a longtime record collector and DJ, opened 606 Records at 1808 S. Allport St. in late 2015 and soon joined dozens of other record shops across the Chicago area — and hundreds around the globe — in recognizing Record Store Day every spring.

Still, the 42-year-old and his co-owner are relative newcomers to the retail holiday, an idea conceived more than a decade ago by a group of friends scattered across the country as an annual celebration of independent record stores.

With a new, largely recognized “ambassador” artist or group every year — this year it’s Pearl Jam — the day has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with stores enticing vinyl lovers with deals and giveaways on every continent except Antarctica.

For 606 Records, the releases and handouts have made it their busiest day of the year, but Mitchell said the focus has stayed on what the store does best: promoting local artists and labels instead of industry behemoths.

The free coffee and beer he and his co-owner offered Saturday didn’t hurt, either.

Eviticus Smith, a devoted vinyl fan, made 606 Records his second stop of the day.

“You see all walks of life in a record store. You’re all there for one common thing, it’s the music and the vinyl,” Smith said. “I’m 51 years old, I’ve been doing this since 1982. It’s what I do.”

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Though hundreds of new records are released on Record Store Day, participating stores which new releases to highlight and what goodies to give away.

That freedom to personalize the day has been important to Mitchell.

“It’s not Record Day, it’s Record Store Day. So we are very thankful and appreciative to have this opportunity to bring people in to shop at the store for this global thing,” Mitchell said. “We’re still going to do our same thing, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity to open the ears of people who are not too familiar with music.”