George’s Music Room, the iconic West Side record store that found a second life at Midway Airport, is losing its airport lease under a revamped concessions lineup that is drawing the ire of black aldermen.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council Black Caucus, said he wants the Emanuel administration to reconsider the decision to remove the store owned by George Daniels, long an important figure on the Chicago music scene.
“I have a very big concern about that. George is an institution. We all know and love George. We don’t want to see George squeezed out of being an ambassador for Chicago,” Sawyer told me Friday.
Daniels, 70, said he only learned he was losing his space two weeks ago when the Chicago Sun-Times carried a story by City Hall reporter Fran Spielman with an online list of the businesses included in the new airport deal.
“I noticed I wasn’t on that list,” said Daniels, adding that he found the news “somewhat devastating.”
While that might suggest Daniels was not keeping close enough tabs on the bidding process, he believes he was intentionally kept in the dark because others wanted his space.
Either way, he’s not going away without a fight.
“I would hate to be pushed out,” he told me. “This is where I have to stand my ground.”
Daniels reached out to his friends on the City Council, which still must grant its approval to the 15-year agreement with clout-heavy Midway Partnership LLC. That gives the Black Caucus some potential leverage, although it could get sticky.
“It’s a raw deal for him,” complained Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who said she knew Daniels — and shopped at his West Side store — long before she became an alderman.
“George’s Music Room is known throughout the world. They need to be doing what they can to save him,” she said, meaning the Emanuel administration.
Daniels opened his independent record store in the 3900 block of West Roosevelt Road in 1969 and thrived despite the travails of the surrounding North Lawndale neighborhood. In the process, he became a local music legend — and friend of everyone from Puffy to Shaquille O’Neal — only for the flagship store to finally succumb in 2010 like every many other record stores after the music business went digital.
But George’s Music Room has continued to survive at Midway, where it was awarded space in 1999 by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration in the last big makeover of the Southwest Side airport.
At the time, Daley sought to give both airports more of a Chicago flair with an emphasis on local businesses.
As an African-American owned business, George’s Music Room also filled a need for more minority involvement at the airports. Hairston says that’s still an issue.
But Daniels told me: “I don’t want to be there just because of that. I want to be there because we’re good at what we do.”
To survive the shift to digital music, George’s now sells electronics accessories like ear buds, headphones, Bluetooth speakers and phone chargers.
Daniels said he continues to sell a lot of music CDs — an assortment of blues, jazz, gospel and old school hip-hop that he says he personally “hand-picked.”
But he said the new product mix has given the store a big boost.
“Our business has really skyrocketed in the last couple years,” he said.
Although his airport space is small at just under 400 square feet, Daniels said its location at the entrance to the B concourse, near the Midway food court, makes it highly attractive.
“The advantage at Midway is a captured market,” said Daniels, who said he currently pays $2,500 to $3,000 a month for the right to capture it.
Sawyer said he would enlist the Black Caucus in support of Daniels.
“You want the concessions at the airport to have a true Chicago feel,” he said. “George is one of those true Chicagoans.”