More than a year after its longtime owner died of cancer, and just days away from closing for good, Val’s halla Records in Oak Park has gotten a reprieve.
Stepping up to keep the vinyl spinning is Trevor Toppen, a consultant who specializes in helping struggling businesses.
One of his two sons spent some time helping out in the store over the summer, giving Toppen a firsthand look at what manager Shayne Blakeley was dealing with.
“I’m stepping up to support Shayne in saving Val’s,” Toppen said Friday.
“We recognize the importance of what Val’s is to the community, and it was heartbreaking to see it possibly closing,” added Toppen, who discovered Val’s when he and his wife moved to Oak Park in 2003. They now live in nearby River Forest.
Blakeley said he was “completely flabbergasted” when Toppen approached him about saving the store at 239 Harrison St.
“This is something I had not even dared to hope for,” said Blakeley, who had resigned himself to shutting things down after so many prior reprieves.
“We’ve been blessed so many times over the years and over the decades, I did not think we had another one left in the tank,” he added. “Looks like I had another angel on my shoulder.”
Details of the financial arrangement are still being worked out, but Toppen already has helped the store purchase some fresh stock, which had been dwindling. The store’s financial struggles had prevented Blakeley from adding new merchandise or doing any promotion.
“We’ve made the financial investment to really refresh the merchandise and work with him to get some great events into the space and share the love of music with the community,” Toppen said.
“What we will do is help him on some of the back-office things,” he added. “Shayne is definitely the face of the store.”
For years, that face was Val Camilletti, who started the business 47 years ago and died in July 2018, leaving behind decades of debt.
“The store has been in dire straits for decades. We’ve done everything in our power to keep it going,” Blakeley said, including fundraisers and even help from volunteers when the store had to change locations.
“This is a fresh approach,” Blakely said.
Toppen “fills in all the appropriate blanks that me and Val completely missed,” he added.
“Val and myself can run a record store about as well as anyone. But when it comes to the numbers and the business side of things, I’m no good at that. And she wasn’t that good at it either.”
Toppen said he and Shayne started talking within the past two weeks. The key, Toppen said, is to bring in customers who are there for “not just nostalgia reasons but spending their hard-earned dollars.”
That includes adding musical performances, listening parties and partnering with other businesses and arts organizations in the Oak Park area.
“I think the community really wants to support it and understands the importance of it,” Toppen said.
Blakeley said he’s already put the new stock out and has started booking bands.
Toy Robots will perform at the store at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Several more bands are being lined up for the Black Friday sale Nov. 29.
But the one Blakeley is especially happy about is Canadian singer Val Halla, who will be in the Chicago area around the holidays; they’re still working out the exact date she will perform.
He agrees the store can’t survive on just customers’ fond memories.
“The community has been wonderful in saying they want us here,” Blakeley said. “But they have to come out and show us that.”