IPMM Exclusive Interview: Rick Wojcik of Dusty Groove
IPMM Exclusive Interview: Rick Wojcik of Dusty Groove
On the first day of snow, which came late this year, IPMM happened to be checking in with Rick Wojcik, Owner/Operator of Dusty Groove. Located on Chicago’s north side and arguably the best record store in the city, DGA is known to multitudes of vinyl aficionados the world over, due to the vast success of their online store, which has no doubt made dreams come true for those whose fingers were too far away to get anywhere near DGA’s crates.
As always at IPMM, we’re up front about our bias’, and Dusty Groove gets our nod because of their impeccable taste and eclectic selection. From HipHop classics and singles, to Brazilian rarities, African funk records and other choice LP’s, we can’t stop finding records we love when investigating their stock. We’d seal Rick’s retirement plan with one winning lottery ticket, but until then, we know we can find something to ease our need at Dusty Groove. Rick Wojcik tells us just how DGA has built and retained such an incredible collection of records, as well as massively loyal customer base to back it up.
– – – – –
IPMM: How did Dusty Groove come to life?
RW: It’s a very long story — but the short version is that we were real record fiends — big collectors and DJs, always buying records all the time — and at one point we decided that we needed to do something to support our habit, so we started Dusty Groove online in early 1996 — as a way to sell off some of the extra records we were buying in our travels.
IPMM: We have to say, after vetting many a record store here in Chicago, we are faithful DGA customers. Do you think it’s mostly your selected blend of LP’s and CD’s that brings people back?
RW: Thanks, that’s very nice to know. I’m not sure what it is that brings people back — but I can say that as big record buyers ourselves, we’re always committed to keeping something fresh out there in the racks. Sometimes that’s not easy — especially with labels closing down as much as they have been lately — but we live for the music we sell, so it’s also a pleasure to track it down.
IPMM: The majority of record stores are limited to predominantly rock music. To what do you attribute that trend?
RW: … I’d say that overall, rock music has probably been one of the larger selling genres of the past few decades — so I’m sure that’s part of it.
IPMM: We have to say, what IPMM loves about DGA is the eclectic palette that includes a lot of amazing African, Brazilian, and Latin stuff, but also your dedication to HipHop. We definitely relate to a similarly broad spectrum of creative output. Were any of those genres first loves for you, continued loves? How does the shop’s current curation relate to your musical preferences specifically.
RW: Yes to all of those questions — and partly as an answer to the one above, too. When we started Dusty Groove, it was really as a way to offer an indie record store that didn’t just specialize in rock — and which also had kind of an eclectic specialty too. Often, so much of the music we loved was an afterthought in more mainstream record stores — kind of a second-tier of what they’d stock — or stuffed in the back as a miscellaneous category in more rock-related shops. And although there were some great jazz and soul music stores when we first started out, we also knew that they were kind of isolated in the market — maybe a bit tough to approach for folks who weren’t complete specialists in those genres. I also have to say that we did draw some inspiration from amazing record stores we saw overseas — hip shops in Tokyo and London who were also very inspirational to us in crossing genres in our tastes.
IPMM: We talk to a good amount of touring musicians, some to whom we’ve recommended you guys… People often reply, “Yea! I love Dusty Groove.” You guys started as an online retailer, which has allowed you to garner support and loyal customers from around the world. The shops’ stock just help with that tremendously…
RW: Actually, we actually never wanted to be a store ourselves — we thought we’d just fill a good need by being a mail order outlet. So for our first few years, with no shop in Chicago, we had a much larger following outside of the city than locally — but we’re also really happy that we’ve been able to open a store here, and tie ourselves to the city too — because Chicago is very important to us. It’s where we’re from, what made us, and what still continues to really inform the way we enjoy music — and we continue to be very proud to represent Chicago to a larger global audience.
IPMM: So when we stopped by today, you had to run off to check out a private collection. How often do people call ya to come check out hordes of LP’s?
RW: We get calls all the time — but not all of them are good ones. We’ve got a great reputation for paying very good money for collections — but part of that is finding the right collections to buy. There’s a lot of junk out there, so we’re always working hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But at the end of the day, we also just love records, too — and we love to put out bargains for our customers — records at 99 cents that are still pretty darn great, just not that valuable to collectors.
IPMM: What’s your take on colored vinyl, 180 gram pressings, and other boutique stuff like that? There’s clearly a lot of money in reissued deluxe packaging on blood red plastic (ehemm, Blood Sugar 20th Anniversary), and some people claim a difference in sound quality. Please, opine.
RW: I guess I agree with you that it seems like there’s a lot of money in these different pressings — but to us, there seems to be nothing better than original vinyl if it’s in good shape. I mean, sure it’s great to see some of these fancy pressings, but I’m not sure we have ears for anything other than the music — and as long as a record is pressed well, it always sounds great to our ears. These days, I’m more impressed with the outside packages the labels have been doing — the really cool covers, expanded booklets/notes, and all the other really good stuff — including the drive to really include some great extra tracks, bonus singles, and things like that — all of which definitely get my extra record buying dollar.
IPMM: Despite our growing collection of LP’s, we tend to reach for that handful of records that either captivates our mind or commands us to move. When you’re ready to revel, what few records are you puttin’ on your plate at home?
RW: Hmmm . . . I’m not sure that I’d use the words “few records” — because honestly, I’m always digging up something new, and I’m always listening to a wide variety of music. I definitely have some things I return to over the years, but there’s no real regular rotation — just an erratic array of things I’m always getting turned onto.
IPMM: How has your view of the business changed with the resurgence of vinyl? You opened in 1996, what was the climate like then as far as vinyl sales as compared to now, and how do you feel about vinyl re-establishing its place in today’s marketplace?
RW: We were vinyl-only at the start — not so much by design, but because so much of the music we loved hadn’t made it to CD yet. But now, it’s kind of the reverse — and because of the amazing CDs out there these days, we actually sell a lot more CDs than vinyl. It’s not that our vinyl sales have dipped — it’s just that the amazing world of CDs has risen to compete with the compelling array of music on older wax. So the resurgence of vinyl is great, but for us it’s just business as usual — although I guess it’s nice to see the format get some new respect from the rest of the world too!
IPMM: What was the record that got you hooked on music?
RW: That’s kind of hard to say. I grew up in Chicago, with loads of great AM radio — like the old WLS — and that was a constant array of different hits in different styles — and that was probably my first real inspiration for music, back when I was a little kid.
IPMM: What advice might you have for someone who thinks they have what it takes to open a successful record store? Dare we ask?
RW: I’m not sure if my advice is record store-specific — but like any small business, if you love what you do, then all the challenges of running a business can be enjoyable ones. It’s never easy, but at least you feel like you’re doing the work for your passion. But definitely don’t expect to die a rich man!
IPMM: What was the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
RW: Another tough one. I’ve had so many great musical experiences — but it’s usually a combination of factors — my mood, the particular night, the people I’m with, and so on — always a very personal thing that sometimes has less to do with the actual performance, however great that might be.
But at the end of the day, I’m definitely more of a record guy than a concert guy — so that’s where most of my energy goes.