The truth is, I've never been rich, I never will be rich, and that's not the criteria that controls me, said Record Service co-owner Phil Strang
, who was one of the first members of the 1969 music-buying group that eventually became his
store.I'd much rather have my own business and make $ 20, 000 a year than work for someone and make $ 50, 000..He
set foot in Champaign-Urbana in September 1967 from Flushing, Queens, New York.His
parents, who were from Illinois, encouraged him to attend the University of Illinois, where he
earned a degree in radio and TV communications and minored in psychology and rhetoric.
Strang's intentions have always been community-focused.Little did he
know that his
participation in the Undergraduate Student Association Record Ordering Service would lead to a long-term career.
To celebrate Record Service's 30 years in the community, the store has scheduled a birthday party at The Highdive at 9 p.m. on Sunday, November 14.
In 1969, Strang
was the music director of WPGU, whose format was experimental and free-form at the time.Though he
didn't have an on-air spot, Strang
spent most of his
time listening to 50 records a day for a year, working his
way alphabetically from A to S in the station's collection.At the time, his
roommate was in student government and wanted to start a record-ordering service, and Strang
chose to help.
In October of that year, the small group of volunteers found a distributor, a one-stop in Chicago where the students could buy various labels.They first set-up shop in the Illini Union.One person sat at a desk with a notebook and a catalog, and students could order any record from it, Strang
said.The average album was $ 4.98 [ at other stores ].Most sold [ from the student service ] at list price. The record-ordering service bought the albums at $ 2.65 and sold them for $ 2.95.We'd make just enough to pay someone to sit there, he
Two weeks later, the one-stop suggested that the students have material on-hand for customers.The first box of records contained 30 copies of Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane.We sold them all in less than an hour, Strang said.Word of mouth was everything. The next day, the service had 60 copies of Volunteers and 30 copies of the just-released Strange Days by The Doors.Almost all those were sold by the following day.That seed that gave birth to Record Service, Strang
Music was part of everyone's lifestyle at that time.There were a lot of good local bands getting signed, like REO Speedwagon and Dan Fogelberg, Strang said.We were all up-and-coming hippies and lived communally.Record Service was more a way of life than a job..
When the service decided it needed someone to order records, Strang
stepped up.Eight people worked for the group making $ 25 each week ; after a few months, they earned $ 1.50 an hour.Making about $ 30 a week after six months of working at the Record Ordering Service, Strang
decided to stop working at WPGU.
The Record Ordering Service was asked to move out of the Illini Union during spring break of 1970 because it was so successful, and there was a law protecting Campustown businesses from competing stores on university property.So the collective moved into the basement of the YMCA.The Record Ordering Service burgeoned from a quarter of the space to half, and it competed for room in the YMCA with a bookstore, so by fall 1971 the record group decided to move out.
The students' third location was the second floor of an apartment in an area near the present-day bar Legends.That space was important because there we became a separate entity -- no longer merely a student organization, Strang
said.We purchased ourselves for $ 1. The group was $ 2, 000 in the red.
The group soon shortened its name to Record Service, because there wasn't a unanimous decision between the proposed MOB (Middle of the Block), Mandolin Wind (after the popular Rod Stewart song), or Honest Phil's (which Strang
wouldn't stand for).
At that time, the group, consisting of 14 workers/co-owners, incorporated itself and stopped using the one-stop to get its material.The record companies started finding us, recalled Strang
.They wanted to sell to us.Now, it's almost impossible to get products directly from the label. Albums were 15 to 20 cents cheaper from the labels, so instead of losing $ 2, 000 a year, the store began making that much.But it was five years before the store could pay its employees minimum wage, Strang
said.A lack of decent wages is probably what caused half of them to move on, he
Strange continued : 1971, 72 was the real heyday of the alternative community. A group called Earthworks published a directory of all the local alternative businesses, including Record Service.These groups collected a voluntary community tax that helped like businesses in need and helped finance new ones.
When the fire was raging -- there was ice everywhere -- a friend called me [ at 2 a.m. ] and said, You better come down ; Record Service is on fire, " Strang
had arrived at his
store to take the safe.The burning building connected to Record Service, and the Champaign Fire Department had busted through all the windows and prevented the fire from spreading to the record store.The place was filled with smoke, an inch or more of water was on the floor, and Record Service lost electricity.Twisted metal was all that was left of the Second Chances building.
That was pretty traumatic, Strang said.We survived in that space for five years and moved here [ the present location ] in December 1981.
store still has employee meetings at which new ideas and suggestions are discussed ; out of that came its recent newsletter, Daytripper, filled with CD reviews and local music features.Strang
said that he's
lucky if he
listens to 50 records a month now, and he
doesn't get to listen to anything twice.I have to know 1, 000 titles every week.I have to know in my head if they are on-order..He's
been in a band, he's
worked at a New York record label, and he's
worked in radio, which gives him a unique perspective.The record business is probably the screwiest business in the world, Strang said.When I was a junior in college, I never conceived doing this the rest of my life..