If you think of vinyl records as being a relic resigned to your parents’ attic or basement, Steve Young wants you to think again.
According to a September story in Rolling Stone, vinyl records are poised to outsell compact discs for the first time since 1986 — nearly 14 million were sold in 2017 alone — and a quarter of those were purchased by millennials who have rediscovered what seemed like an obsolete technology.
Young, an Evans Scholar who graduated from Northwestern University, never lost his love for vinyl. In fact, he turned his passion for records into a business. He began selling vinyl online through eBay and Discogs, eventually adding a brick and mortar store called Record Wonderland in Roselle, Ill., along with fellow Evans Scholar Patrick Deasey.
Young began caddying at Flossmoor Country Club while in high school with the idea of landing the Evans Scholarship, but also making enough money to add to his growing interest in record collecting. The legendary Bobby Jones held the course record at Flossmoor for over six decades before a member beat Jones’ 66 by one stroke. The course also hosted the 1920 PGA Championship, won by Jock Hutchison.
“I had always collected records,” Young said in a recent telephone interview. “Like at Northwestern, I always had a lot of records. It’s kind of funny, when I learned about caddying and they said at the time, ‘Your base rate was maybe $8 a round or something like that,’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s enough to buy a record.’ ”
Young wasn’t that interested in playing golf, but the idea of making money and going to college on a full ride while enjoying the calm, peaceful mornings and warm summer days enticed him. Especially when compared to working at a mall. A friend suggested he take the caddie training program at Flossmoor and Young was hooked.
“They had a nice caddie training program and I kind of learned from scratch,” he said. “I knew the basics of golf and all that stuff, but I didn’t know anything about etiquette on the greens and other things, so I kind of learned all that as I went along.”
Young went on to major in radio, television and film at Northwestern, then worked at a number of newspapers in suburban Chicago before realizing he was more interested making more money with his hobby.
“The journalism business was changing in the early 2000s,” Young said. “I was freelancing and rates were getting diminished. I was messing around with records just a little bit buying and selling them, and it kind of progressed into doing it more or less full-time online, like on eBay and Discogs.”
Deasey, who graduated from Northwestern one year after Young, came onboard shortly thereafter. Unlike many businesses which have evolved from a physical location to a virtual one, Record Wonderland went the other direction.
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Young estimates he has more than 40,000 pieces — vinyl records, tapes, marketing displays, posters and the like — at any given time in the store and in storage.
“Pat helped me for several of those years while he was doing other stuff,” Young said. “We kind of did it part-time and it merged into full-time. And about three years ago, circumstances were such that my kids just moved out of the house because they went to college and my parents had passed away. I inherited a little bit of money and it seemed like it was time to open up a store, so that’s kind of how we ended up with the store.”
If you have an interest in a particular kind of record, it’s a good bet Record Wonderland either has it or can get it for you. That’s particularly true of classical recordings, which differentiates his store from the competition. Everyone can sell Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, but Young knows his buyers are more interested in esoteric or unusual records, which suits him just fine because that’s what he enjoys as well.
“The record business is interesting right now because the people spending the most money are trying to look for esoteric pieces that are difficult to find,” Young said. “There are some collectors who kind of know what they want.
“The big buyers are looking for stuff that they can’t find anyplace else. And what we’ve learned in the business over the years is sort of how to ferret that stuff out just a little bit. I’m kind of fortunate that we do specialize in classical.
“Most of my competitors here in Chicago don’t really know that much about classical or they prefer not to deal with it. We have access to a lot of interesting classical collections. I just went through a house in Evanston and bought about 3,000 classical records.”
The store isn’t that far from Medinah Country Club, Young said, so sometimes he’ll see someone browsing through the racks who just finished a round of golf.
“We have some customers who are members of Medinah,” he said. “People come in regularly wearing something with a Medinah logo on it or something like that.
“Our location here isn’t necessarily easy to find, but part of the current model in record stores is you want to be a destination. In order to be that destination, you kind of have to have special stuff. If we kind of have the same stuff you can find at Target or Best Buy or something like that, they wouldn’t come to find us. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Young said one of the most important lessons he learned as a caddie was how to communicate.
“When you’re caddying, you’re out there for four and a half hours and you talk to people who are not necessarily from your way of life,” he said. “Communications skills are important in a business.
“Not all the people that you caddie for are talkative but sometimes you’d have these fairly long conversations. I might not have understood it at the time, but that was kind of like a gift: To be able to talk at ease with people who aren’t necessarily just like you.”
In order to get the Evans Scholarship, you have to pass a rigorous set of criteria, including financial need, excellent grades and the ability to handle yourself in the interview with the selection committee. It’s not the greatest situation for an introvert, but Young said the caddie experience helped him tremendously at that point.
“Some of that stuff is a little bit nerve-wracking, like standing up in front of the selection committee and talking to people,” he said. “Like most people, I don’t like to talk in front of a group but once it was over, I was fine.
“Going through that process sort of makes you learn that you can do things and that you are ready for whatever is next. If I didn’t caddie and I didn’t get the Evans Scholarship, my life would be totally different right now. I met my wife at Northwestern. I met Pat at Northwestern. He’s been my best friend and we’re business partners right now.”
The Evans Scholar program opened the door for the entire Young family to become Wildcats. His sister was also an Evans Scholar at Northwestern, his daughter graduated from there a year ago and his son currently attends college there.
From carrying golf bags to running a record store, Steve Young is appreciative of the lessons he learned and the experience he gained from being an Evans Scholar. And being able to make a living from something you enjoy is like putting a rare piece of vinyl on the turnable for the first time. And with more and more people rediscovering the wonders of analog records, it’s no wonder Young and Record Wonderland is at the forefront of it all.
The Evans Scholars Program provides academic, professional and social resources that help students maintain a cumulative 3.3 GPA and 95 percent graduation rate. There are a record 985 Evans Scholars enrolled in 18 leading universities for the 2018-19 academic year, and more than 10,830 young men and women have graduated as Evans Scholars since 1930. For more information, visit https://wgaesf.org.