After a drought of more than a year, today Andersonville has a record store once again. Sure, you can buy music at Transistor, as well as at several of the resale shops in the area, but Rattleback Records (located at 5405 N. Clark) is the first dedicated record store in the neighborhood since Borderline Music closed its storefront and went online-only in July 2017.
Decked out in bright colors and midcentury furniture (some sourced from the Brown Elephant across the street), Rattleback is a love letter to all things vintage. While many other record stores in Chicago lean into the vaguely warehouselike exposed-brick aesthetic that millennials seem to love, Rattleback has finished walls painted yellow-green and sky blue, inspired by a 70s wallpaper sample. At the front of the store sits a vintage leather sofa—adorned with a John Travolta throw pillow signed by the man himself—and a slat-bench coffee table, meant to entice people walking past to come hang out and browse at their leisure through the new and used vinyl records, CDs, and cassettes in stock. (The store also sells books and vintage barware, but they aren’t the focus of its business.)
Rattleback owner Paul Ruffino considers himself a vinyl loyalist—though he’s been around for the entire evolution of digital sound in the consumer market, he remains a believer in the LP.
“In my opinion, the sound is superior,” he says. “It kind of envelops you, you know, and even the hisses and the pops and the little skips and the scratches—it’s kind of, to me, a little more indicative of real life. You know, real life is not this linear digital track. Real life has got some messiness to it. Some hisses and some pops, some skips in the record. I think some people can relate to that: it’s not perfect.”
Contrary to popular belief (OK, contrary to my belief), the store’s name has nothing to do with rattlesnakes. Ruffino actually named it after a kind of spinning top. A rattleback is unique in that it will only spin in one direction—if you try to spin it the other way, it will slow down and then reverse into its preferred direction, seemingly defying the laws of physics. As it slows and reverses, it wobbles and rattles against the surface it’s spinning on. “I thought that was pretty cool,” Ruffino says. “It seemed a little rebellious, y’know?”
Rattleback Records expects to carry a variety of genres, including rock, blues, jazz, show tunes, classical, comedy, spoken word, and international music. The shop also pays cash or store credit for used media.
Andersonville has been waiting for a record store for more than a year, but Ruffino—a retired schoolteacher and administrator who most recently served as an elementary school principal in Skokie—has been waiting to open one for much, much longer. A lifelong music lover, he managed a Chicago record store while in college in the early 90s, before embarking on his career in the schools. Last year, after a health crisis forced him to take a step back from work, he began to revisit the idea of opening a record store—something that had seemed infeasible and impractical when he was younger. He counts himself lucky to have been able to pursue careers in both of his life’s passions, education and music.
For Ruffino, the Andersonville location for Rattleback was a no-brainer. As a longtime Edgewater resident, he loved the idea of setting up shop so close to home, surrounded by customers who are also neighbors. He compares it to “old-school” businesses whose proprietors also owned the apartments above their stores, restaurants, and bars. “There’s something romantic about that,” he says. “It’s sort of being a part of that fabric.”
Rattleback Records first opened its doors on Thursday, November 1, at 5405 N. Clark. Currently its hours are 11 AM-7 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 11 AM-5 PM Sundays. The store is closed Mondays.