In The Beginning
As mentioned at the beginning of the About Page of this website, Kiss The Sky was “thought of” sometime around 1969 at a time when Steve, the owner, and one Michael Messerschmidt (Mike) were “casual” friends by way of their mutual love and interest in music. In fact, one of their first musical outings together was a show at the historic Kinetic Playground in Chicago that took place on Halloween Night, October 31, 1969 and featured The Kinks (Steve’s favorite band of all time) and The Who (Mike’s fav). A band named The Liverpool Scene opened up the night as well.
Oddly enough, it was their love of basketball that really brought Steve and Mike together as they both were pretty adept at the sport, albeit in different ways, and they began hooking up at local area basketball gatherings (they both attended Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois). Mike was an excellent left-handed baseline shooter while Steve was known for crashing the boards and was a pretty decent passer and assist man.
During the summers after graduating from High School and attending college, Mike and Steve took a gym class, which basically turned into a night of basketball pick-up games, at Thornridge High School. And that’s when and where the real friendship developed.
Over the years, as they formed park district teams and continued their love of music by attending many concerts together, and many more independent of one another as they both had varying, in addition to overlapping tastes. The concert going helped to deepen their friendship and became a vehicle for the to talk and dream about the idea of owning a record store.
The Dream becomes a Reality … 1996
Steve and Mike were both in their mid 40’s and had spent a couple of decades developing careers … Mike spent half of that time in Personal Management for a large engineering firm in Chicago and the other half becoming excellent at Real Estate Appraising, while Steve pretended to be an Accountant for Checkers, Simon & Rosner Certified Public Accountants for three years before moving on to becoming involved with one of their clients, Old World Trading Company, which would later evolve into Old World Industries, the owners of Peak Antifreeze. Steve would end up becoming the President & CEO and a minority owner of the company for the last five years of his 20 year stay at Old World.
Steve was getting burnt out with the corporate life filled with millions of air miles and days and nights away from his young and growing family, while Mike was yearning for something more than putting dollar amounts on old decrepit falling down warehouses and factory buildings. Steve made a decision at the end of 1995 to venture out on his own and explored the possibility of getting into the live music business by way of owning a Blues club. He seriously flirted with the idea of purchasing the B.B. Kings Blues Club in Memphis, and when that failed to materialize, he looked at opening up a club on the West Side of Chicago near the old Chicago Stadium and gave it a working title of Morganfield’s after his favorite and most revered Blues artist of all time, McKinely Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters.
Steve identified a building that seemed perfect for the venture. It was a building owned by former Chicago Blackhawk hockey star, Chris Chelios and was called Cheli’s Chili Bar. Steve had met with Chris on several occasions regarding the possible purchase, and although there was a mutual interest in effecting the sale and acquisition, the deal fell through. Steve thinks that his interest in the building encouraged Chris to rethink his motivation to sell the building upon realizing that the West Loop area where the building was located was becoming “interesting” to investors and developers.
Whatever the case may be, Steve decided that his foray into the Night Club business was not to be and he focused his thoughts on the idea of opening up that record store that he and Mike had casually talked about on many occasions during the past 30 years.
Steve got a hold of Mike shortly after making the decision to pursue the record store dream, and after a few weeks of long “very convincing” talks and encouragements, Mike decided to leave the appraisal business to those that love appraising and join Steve in his journey. This all took place in early 1996.
Research & Development
The first half of 1996 was spent researching the record, and record store industries, while also putting together a business plan and looking for a location. After spending countless hours plotting “competition” on a large 3’x5′ map of the Chicago Metropolitan area, and driving all over Cook, DuPage, Will, Grundy, Kendall and Kane counties, and analyzing demographics, growth and construction forecasts prepared by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, they settled on two different locations that fit their predetermined wants: both, Mokena and the Fox River Valley area fit the bill more than any other spot on the map.
As it turned out, although Mokena fit the desire in terms of forecasted population growth over the next ten years, it was far away from being adequately developed from a commercial point of view, while the Randall Road corridor from Aurora to the south and Elgin to the north seemed destined to “explode”.
Consequently, they settled on a relatively new strip mall located on Randall Road in Batavia that was anchored by a Jewel Food Store (high foot traffic business) and the infamous and still standing (as of 2021) Abby’s Hallmark Store. And they were right about the “explosion” aspect of Randall Road.
Over the course of the next 5 years, Randall Road became home to Best Buy, Circuit City, Barns & Noble, Borders and Wal-Mart … all of whom competed in the pre-recorded music business and who provided Kiss The Sky with competition and interesting challenges. And even though all of that occurred, seemingly year after year, the first five years of life on Randall Road can be categorized as a tremendous learning experience wrought with double digit growth year after year until a pinnacle was reached in 2001 (the year of September 11th oddly enough).
But … Back to Mike! … and The Year of Weird!
2020 has been Steve-proclaimed as The Year of Weird! During early 2019, Steve had decided that 2020 was going to be Kiss The Sky’s last year. The thoughts were that they had had a nice 24 year run. The 2012 lease that Steve had previously extended for two years with Batavia Enterprises was to expire in July of 2020. Steve and Mike would be 68 years old and quite frankly ready to sit out on the front porch in that proverbial rocking chair while listening to records from their massive collections and telling long winded stories to their Grandchildren. However, in March of 2020, fate threw Kiss The Sky a hard cutting and sinking curveball. Their plans for a nice and smooth transition into retirement was thwarted by the COVID-19 Pandemic and the shutdown of “nonessential” businesses in Illinois for at least 68 days from the somewhat middle of March to the end of May.
Lots of changes and challenges in terms of running a business that is “temporarily” shutdown were thrown at many throughout the world including Kiss The Sky. However, it must be said, that the impact of the shutdown, at least on the surface, seems to have been as bad as it can get for those in the food, entertainment and hospitality industries. Our hearts go out to those that are, or were, a part of those industries.
Once Illinois Governor Pritzker mandated a shutdown, Mike opted to try working from home while the small staff of part timers decided to take a vacation or even quit and seek other employment elsewhere as Kiss The Sky was later set to open on a tight budget comprised of very little revenue and relatively normal operating expenses and basic product procurement.
Steve, however, still came to the store, even during the shutdown, as the place needed attention and lots of behind the scenes things needed to be done. And, what little business there was by way of curbside pickup or home delivery, required WAY more attention than the normal walk in and browse type of business. Although the store hours were shortened to coincide with the characteristics of curbside and a home delivery operation, Steve averaged between 70 and 80 hours at the store plus in making deliveries.
The New Normal?
Once the store reopened for reduced capacity business at the end of May, after realizing less than 10% of “normal” sales during the shutdown, things started to get interesting with business picking up a little bit during June and July and changes in the customer base started taking place as well … more and more “young” people in the 12 to 18 age category started “visiting” the store. This had an impact on what was being sought after and what was needed to add to the mix of what was being carried. By the end of the year, things were definitely okay but The Kiss had certainly moved into a “new normal” in terms of what was being stocked … many new things were added to the mix to compliment what The Kiss had become during its first 24 years. And, instead of calling it a day at the end of July when the lease was set to expire, Steve asked for, and received, an additional two-year extension. Consequently, as the saying goes … it ain’t over … until it’s over became the chant!
On the other hand, there were some sad changes that occurred during the course of 2020. The Live Music Program that Kiss The Sky had developed over the years came to an end (temporarily). The store tried to dance a bit with bringing it back when it reopened in June of 2020 but it didn’t feel right. Consequently, a decision was made to wait until things did feel right.
On April 17, 2021, the first live show since last June took place and featured a young group of Fox Valley area kids who formed a band while participating in the School of Rock program in Geneva. The band is called Acacia. The show took place before an audience comprised of family members and some friends and was not open to the general public per se. Everything went well and felt “right”. There WILL be more live shows as the world improves.
The Sunset Ride
The other sad occurrence that took place during 2020 is that Mike decided to “retire”. After 24 years of being a huge part of Kiss The Sky, helping to get it off the ground and helping to define what it had become, Mike decided to ride off into the sunset to be able to spend more time with Carolyn, the love of his life, and their children and grandchildren. Mike and Steve had talked about riding off into the sunset together, or at least at the same time, however The Year of Weird threw that wicked curve ball at them both and it was not to be.
Mike’s contributions to The Kiss are many … too many to list here. He will be sorely missed by many, and especially by Steve. At the end of the day, and this can be said without any uncertainty, Mike had an uncanny ability to remember “who recorded what” in terms of what was playing on the radio, jukebox or any turntable. His mind is a Music Encyclopedia. That Encyclopedia can not be replaced!
Thank you for taking the leap of faith. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for being a friend.
Thank you Mike for helping to make the journey great! You WILL be missed!