By Dan Haley
The news Saturday that Val's halla, the beloved and long overlooked Oak Park record store, would close up at the end of November came as a dull thud of secondary pain, 15 months after we all mourned the death of our friend, Val Camilletti.
Val was Val's. And for a decade after most of us had stopped buying CDs, her aura still drew us into her Harrison Street shop from time to time. We searched the bins for something to buy but mainly we just wanted to chat up Val, to bask in her warmth.
Shayne Blakeley, Val's sidekick in the store for nearly 20 years, was left with the fading glow and as he dug deeper, an ever-deeper pile of financial problems with record distributors owed money and, as he said in a Monday morning interview, "the worst first quarter of sales in 20 years."
"The wolves are at the gate and the stress of running this on my own is too much," he said.
Now he is spending his days trying to sell inventory, including music posters and other memorabilia collected over decades. He is also on the internet trying to find a next step for a near 40-year-old who has spent the first decades of his adulthood working for an icon in a fading industry.
"I don't think my next job will be music-related," he said.
Getting ready to talk to Shayne, I found out two surprising things: He doesn't own the store. And the executor of Val's estate is Deno Andrews, the Oak Park village trustee.
I asked Blakeley about both those things.
In her will, he said, Val gave him "the right of first refusal" to take ownership of the store. The offer, he said, "was worded carefully. She didn't want it to become an unnecessary burden."
So he never took ownership and as the depth of the problems became more clear, it became plain it was the correct decision. Asked if someone might buy the store, he said, "I can't imagine why someone would. They'd need deep pockets and a heavy sense of nostalgia."
Andrews became the executor of the estate at Blakeley's request after others suggested by Val took a pass. Shayne said he met Andrews after Val's death when the village trustee came to the store asking his opinion of whether an honorary street name for Val should be located on Harrison or on South Boulevard, for several decades the original location of the shop. The street renaming got shot down by a village board wary of such honors. A mural of Val was dedicated this summer on the Green Line embankment opposite the old South Boulevard location.
Andrews said Monday the proceeds from the closeout sale will go into the estate and eventually, subject to court approval, be divvied up among the store's many creditors. "We don't know yet all the debts. It will be a seriously negative valuation," said Andrews.
Both Blakeley and Andrews, while being candid about the fix the shop is in, are also focused on Val's place in Oak Park's lore.
Shayne said the huge response to his weekend Facebook post "has been incredible. But I knew that would happen," referring to the hundreds of comments and shares. "The store needs a good send-off," he said.
For Andrews, the closing is "a sad bookmark at the end of a great run. It's a sad day in our village. But we can't overlook the positive impact that Val had in Oak Park over half a century. Turns out you had to be Val to run Val's."
Answer Book 2019
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