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Meet Val Camilletti of Val’s Halla Records in Oak Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Val Camilletti.

Val, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Graduated Austin High School in January 1958 & 3 days later started working at Continental Bank – a bastion of marble & wood in downtown Chicago. Despite lasting 4 years, it was pretty evident that the financial world was not an obvious match. Consulted an employment agency who buy & large sent me on similar clerical interviews. After a few of those, I moaned that I might consider applying for a retail job selling records. The counselor remembered that she had seen an employment request from a recent client. On an index card on her desk it said, “Work for major record company, meet famous people” With my limited knowledge, I expected that a “major” record company meant a luxurious carpeted office with a polished wooden desk where a perky receptionist would direct visitors to the “famous” people. I didn’t think I’d fit the bill, but decided to give it a shot.

The next day, in April of 1962, I walked thru the doors of the ugliest, pea green peeled painted walls of a squat non-descript building at 1326 S. Michigan Ave — the Chicago branch office of Capitol Records. A couple of sales reps wandering around muttering, “those mother******s” and I immediately KNEW I wanted to work HERE!!!

After a couple of inept interviews, I was hired. My first day was April 26, 1962. When I arrived, there was no desk, no typewriter & no pen. When I asked my new boss what I should do first, he suggested that I clean out the 5 drawer file cabinet and throw out the stuff we didn’t need. The cabinet contained thousands of candid 8 X 10 photos of every major recording artist on the Capitol roster – FRANK SINATRA; JUDY GARLAND; NAT KING COLE etc., etc. All I could think was “are they going to PAY me to do this”

The Capitol tenure lasted ’til 1967, long enough to usher in some minor artists like THE BEATLES & BEACH BOYS when it was time to move on. I took a job running a small record store in Oak Park that grew into a 5 store chain in Illinois & Wisconsin called NMC Discount Records. As is typical of retail, some of the stores did better than others and when we closed NMC in 1972, I was able to negotiate keeping the flagship location at 723 1/2 South Blvd and it was there that VAL’S HALLA RECORDS was born – July 27, 1972. In 2006 we re-located to our present location at 239 Harrison and the last week of July we will be celebrating our 45th anniversary

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Life in retail is never smooth. Configurations of music move in and out of favor and with those changes come increasing debt and ever fluctuating demand. Obviously the most daunting challenge came with the availability of downloaded music. If it weren’t for the returned interest in vinyl, it is difficult to imagine we would still exist.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Val’s Halla records – what should we know?
Val’s Halla is a real life record store. We carry every configuration of music from 78’s going back to the late 1800;s to current hip-hop in Cd, vinyl and cassettes and also DVD’s and VHS tapes.

What really separates us from most music stores is that we DON’T specialize — we have a vast selection in all musical genres including classical, country & easy listening selections going back to the 50’s

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
An insatiable curiosity to find the answer to ANY question. When customers have long ago tried to convince us that it really isn’t that important, we simply can’t quit.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 239 harrison st. – oak park, IL
    hours: Mon – Sat 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Sunday – 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Website: valshallarecords.com
  • Email: val723@sbcglobal.net
  • Phone: – 708-524-1004

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

7 Comments

  1. val camilletti

    June 13, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    WONDERFUL — thank you so much for including the Val’s halla story.

  2. Don burandt

    June 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Given the opportunity to visit her store and hear some of her experiences on local radio, It’s clear there is a vivid history that Val is willing to share with customers and curious music lovers alike. The article missed the chance to include some of those vignettes of her experience. Still if you want a good dose of music culture and lore, visit the gal in person. A Chicago treasure in many ways.

  3. Patricia Yorton

    June 13, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    I met Val in Chicago in the 50s, when she was about 17, fresh out of high school. What an amazing career she has carved out for herself. She is a treasure to her community and all her friends. A true legend in her own time.

    • val camilletti

      June 14, 2017 at 6:10 am

      “Our” story, Pat – yours & mine is worthy of its own entry. I’ve told it many times, but one day I’m going to get it on the air or in print. It’s a Chicago story like no other. Thanks for the sweet words.

  4. Chrismodem

    June 13, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    I’ve been going to Val’s since the late 80’s and still go there as often as I can. In my punk rock phase, I found my beloved Generation X tapes and vinyl, in my 80’s alternative phase, I got my first Cure and Smiths CDs at Val’s. In the past year I found a mega rare spoken word album from one of my beat poet heroes, Jack Kerouak. And just recently, my 16 year old daughter and I are now collecting vintage 80’s synth-pop on cassette tape and gobbled up a dozen tapes, which Val has a nice collection of. The experience of walking into a record store still makes me feel like a kid again, and if you know where to look, you have Val’s and 3-4 other vinyl record stores all in a 2 mile radius of each other.

  5. Dylan

    June 14, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Absolutely love Val’s. Always walk out with a few new records in hand. We like to go not just for the need for new tunes, but to hang out and get recommendations from Val and listen to stories of her days working for a label.

  6. ray brettman

    June 14, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    So glad Val was able to reinvent herself after being moved from an address that actually had a fraction in it, that I first wandered into probably about 1970 when the late Skip Williamson’s WGLD poster was available for free. In a way it was an idyllic address for an enterprise such as her’s, that she was able to make it rise again in what has become a reasonably thriving arts community on Harrison in the same town…a real feather in her hat. On top of everything else thinking it must be in the top ten longest running Oak Park businesses. Hats off to Val.

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