Real Records closes after 25 years


Bob Beckman has spent time thumbing through classical music albums on the tall wooden shelves of Real Records for 25 years.

And as Beckman maneuvers through a maze of thousands of CDs and records, on his way home from work at Mercy Hospital, he’s not alone.

Craig Kessler, the store’s owner, has long served as a musical guide for his customers.

“[I like] being able to come in and talk to Craig and find things and be able to listen to [them] on the way home,” Beckman said. Kessler has helped him find the “intellectually stimulating” music he enjoys.

But after 35 years, Kessler is set to close his independent music shop.

Kessler, an Iowa City native, said he’s closing the store to pursue other interests, rather than for economic reasons.

“Business has actually been very good,” he said. “[But] my time is better spent through a day’s work on the radio or lecturing.”

The owner hosts a radio show focusing on jazz, his expertise, on KCCK, he writes about music as well. Real Records, 203 N. Linn St., will remain open through the end of February with modified hours posted weekly on the door. The store will also function online.

And though Beckman said he’s disappointed with the store’s closing, he understands the reasoning.

“I realize how difficult it is to be the driving force behind a place seven days a week,” he said.

Kessler said responses ranged from sadness and disappointment to outright anger, and he empathized with his customers.

“We’re both victims of a changing world,” he said.

The increasingly digitized nature of music recordings and information devalued the niche of the local record store, he said.

The Haunted Bookshop has shared space with Real Records for the last two years. Owner Nialle Sylvan said Real Records helped her business, allowing people to shop for a diversity of gifts in one place. The two owners grew close while working together.

“We talk about business issues, personal issues, political issues … I’m really going to miss that,” she said. “I have the perfect neighbor.”

Sylvan tentatively plans to house some of The Haunted Bookshop’s 45,000 books in Real Records’ empty space and expand her shop’s inventory.

Adam Luksetich, an employee at Record Collector, Iowa City’s only other CD and vinyl retail store, spoke positively about Kessler and his business. But he expressed uneasiness about the implications of Real Records’ vacancy.

“It just makes room for more stores we don’t need, [like] chains,” he said.

Kessler said daily interaction with customers and the reward of turning someone on to new music were among things he enjoyed.

“You know you’ve changed their life on some level,” said Kessler.

Customer Jeffery Ford moved to Iowa City four-and-a-half years ago and said he enjoyed browsing through physical copies of recordings.

“This was the first store that I really connected into,” he said.

For now, Kessler and wife Janet are planning to visit Europe this summer to see friends and hear live jazz.

“I haven’t taken a vacation in a long, long time,” he said.

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