Web Extra! Slideshow
On a steamy Sunday afternoon, an affable Peter Gianakopoulos presides over The Old School Records, answering questions and sharing music anecdotes. Missing from his side this afternoon are shop regulars Jodi, his wife and business partner, who is pregnant with their second child; Evianna, their 17-month-old daughter, whose tiny lidded school desk sits against the south wall; and Titus and Brandy, the family’s 3-year-old Lhasa Apsos, rescues from the same litter.
Just celebrating its seventh year in Forest Park, the village’s family- and pet-friendly indie music shop is surviving at Madison and Beloit, at a time of instant downloads and piecemeal song buying online.
The store is a treasure chest of music on record, cassette and CD. Asked why should anyone go to a store – rather than just shop online at midnight in boxers – Peter says the lure is the store as meeting place: a gathering spot for people excited about music, and equally excited about sharing their interests.
It was a matter of shared interest in music that brought the mom and pop in this mom’n’pop business together.
“We met when we were both managing different stores for the same company ( Secondhand Tunes),” Jodi says. “I had worked as a fill-in person at his store, but we never met. I had to wait a long time to meet him.”
It was a year and a half before they first spoke on the phone but didn’t meet until the chain was about to be sold.
“It’s funny,” says Jodi, “because I really thought that I had made a huge mistake taking that job, and it turned out to be a major shaping force in how my future would unfold. We both learned a lot, and we knew that together, we would be unbeatable!”
They’ve been selling records together ever since. Jodi is pretty tied to home for now, with her busy toddler and a pregnancy, but she and Peter stay in close contact during the work day.
Customers, Peter says, come from Forest Park, Maywood, Oak Park, Riverside, Naperville and downtown Chicago, but he also regularly sells to British and Japanese visitors. The couple takes pride in having a perch on such a shopping destination as Madison Street. They’re regular participants in such major events as SummerFest, where they’ve sponsored the kids’ stage.
They can recall, though, the Madison Street of seven years ago, when it wasn’t the draw that it’s become, but did have potential.
“It was Forest Parkers who kept telling us how great it was going to be,” says Jodi, who was working in Oak Park at the time. “I visited one day to go to the Army surplus, and thought that Kay’s Bakery and Schauer’s Hardware were great-looking. We knew that the bar and restaurant foot traffic would bring visibility.” She says there was no need to open in Chicago because the Forest Park location was still near an intersection “familiar to anyone in Chicagoland – Harlem and Madison.”
Customers have always been Peter’s focus, ever since starting work at age 12 in his dad’s restaurant, Pete’s Tap & Grill, at 80 W. Madison in Printers Row.
“I did a lot of dish-washing and table-cleaning, did some cooking,” he says of duty in a Greek family business. He’s a cousin to the owner of the famous Margie’s Candies on Western in Chicago, the popular sweet shop that Jodi, who wasn’t born Greek, proudly says was visited by Al Capone in its early years and by the Beatles in 1964.
Working in the family restaurant, Peter says, expanded his musical interests at an early age. As many children once did, Peter had his own little portable record player. And when new 45s came in for the bar, his dad gave little Peter all the older ones straight from the jukebox – mostly rhythm and blues.
So how do you now pitch the concept of vinyl to someone who may never have even seen a record-player?
“I approach it like a work of art,” says Peter, touting the oft-mentioned feeling of warmth proponents swear is unique to music on vinyl. Though he and Jodi stock every type of music, Peter likes referring to what he listened to as a child: “The Spinners and Elton John, got my Ohio Players as well as – if you like that – Barry Manilow.”