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The Jazz Record Mart Closes its Doors



On February 15, after more than 50 years in business, the legendary Jazz Record Mart was forced to sell its inventory and close after rents were doubled, making it impossible to stay open. “It was a very difficult decision,” said Bob Koester, founder of both Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records. “We’ve been looking for a new location for the past year, but weren’t successful finding a space that met our criteria.” Instead of continuing a search, Koester took an offer to sell his inventory to Wolfang’s Vault, a private music-focused company that first started to preserve live concert video and audio recordings of the late promoter Bill Graham. Wolfang’s Vault has since grown to many different genres and is dedicated to the restoration and archiving along with the sale of music memorabilia. He thinks they will most likely offer some of the inventory through their online store, but the ability to walk through a record shop and browse literally thousands of different titles of blues and jazz records is unfortunately a thing of the past. “Most independent record stores comparable to JRM that specialized in jazz and blues have gone out of business in the past 5 years,” Koester says. “Two off the top of my head that are still going are New Orleans’ Louisiana Music Factory, which is similar in their scope of jazz, New Orleans music and blues to the Jazz Record Mart. And then Arhoolie Records’ owner Chris Strachwitz has a store called Down Home Music in El Cerrito, Calif. And they are still open as well.” Outside of the incredible inventory that the Jazz Record Mart contained, equally legendary were the live performances that the store would host on a regular basis. Artists like Johnny Hartman, Lionel Hampton and Diana Krall and more have performed at Jazz Record Mart. “My favorite in-store recollection is Pierre Dorge and the New Jungle Orchestra when the store was located at 11 W. Grand Ave. The percussionists were playing the record bins, any metal exposed pipes—they just made music on anything and everything, the crowd was mesmerized.” The closing of the Jazz Record Mart will allow Koester more time to focus on his record label, Delmark Records, which is benefiting from the renewed interest in vinyl. However, continuing to build his record label and the selling off his inventory and closing the Jazz Record Mart doesn’t mean Koester is completely getting out of the retail business. In the future he is planning to open a small jazz and blues store in the Delmark building on 4121 N. Rockwell St. He’ll divide his time between this store and Delmark, and since he owns the building, he won’t need to worry about rent increases.

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