CHICAGO (CBS) — Perhaps you’ve heard vinyl albums are making a big comeback, even as we stream music on our phones. A couple of African American entrepreneurs are riding vinyl’s renewed popularity to worldwide sales from their small store on Chicago’s South Side.
When Cliff Muhammad earned his MBA from the University of Chicago, he did not envision owning a small record store.
“My career after business school had been mostly about helping businesses to make money, to get their return on investment,” he said.
Cliff, working with multi-national companies, inherited The Record Track, at 87th and Burnham in the South Chicago neighborhood, from his Uncle Wister Adriane, who had died. Uncle Wister had a treasure trove of old vinyl LPs and CDs, and Muhammad planned to get rid of them all.
“First thing I tried to do was sell the whole business, and then after trying to sell the whole business, we said we’re selling inventory. Put a big liquidation on the front, and tried to get as much money out as fast as possible,” he said.
But a funny thing happened on the way to liquidation: neighbors expressed their appreciation for the small shop.
Every business in the neighborhood was cherished, in a community hurt by disinvestment.
“My uncle’s customers would walk in. … We’re trying to sell everything, and they’re like, ‘We’re glad you’re still here,'” Muhammad said.
Though the building itself is closed because of the pandemic, Cliff is selling online, and has customers all over the world, as vinyl enjoys a resurgence in popularity.
“I have as many customers, say, outside of the United States in other countries as I have in Chicago from online sales,” he said.
Cliff’s wife, Connie Anderson, who has a degree in finance, is his partner this unexpected endeavor. He had to convince her to leave the North Side to take on this South Side business, and to make their home in the community.
Connie’s first reaction to the idea of moving to the South Side?
“No,” she said.
The Arkansas native had heard the negative chatter about the South Side, and seen the disinvestment here. But now she’s found a sense of family.
“Honestly, I love the South Side. If I choose to move up north, I can’t. I’m blessed to have those choices. I will not do it. I will not move back,” she said.
Together, Cliff and Connie have big ideas for The Record Track: renovate and reopen the building, and it make a community center where music-lovers of all ages learn to play instruments.
“Come into a physical place and put their hands on a musical instrument – guitar, keyboards, drums — and learn how to do something with that musical instrument within a few minutes,” Cliff said.
“We’re going to see a lot of togetherness,” Connie said. “We’re going to see that old school community togetherness.”
Sometimes the best-laid plans lead to a small South Side record store, thanks to Uncle Wister.
“Everything that’s here is really an archive of uncle’s business over decades.,” Cliff said. “Whenever we hear a little creak in the basement, my wife and I joke that him and his partner are kind of still here with us … you know, maybe telling us what to do.”
Cliff and Connie are receiving a $250,000 grant from the City under the Chicago Recovery Plan for small businesses.
Their winning application for the funds included a promise to use other businesses and labor in the community for work done on The Record Track.