For sale: a piece of vinyl history
Stardust Records owner says running the store is getting more challenging

By Gary Achterberg

Jan. 25, 2019

 Rocky Kruegel is pictured surrounded by vinyl records at the popular
Stardust Records in Thiensville.
Photo by Mark Justesen

THIENSVILLE — When you walk up the five steps and swing open the wooden door to Stardust Records & Collectibles, it’s like entering a time capsule.

Wind your way through the maze of LP display racks – there are more albums stashed in old-time fruit bins on the floor – and you’ll get to Rocky Kruegel holding court behind the counter.

“Music from the ’30s to the ’80s is pretty much what we handle,” said Kruegel, who has run the store at 106 S. Main St. for the past 14 years.

Technically, Stardust is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. In reality, the store is open whenever he’s there – which is often.

The store is owned by Kruegel’s ex-wife, Kathleen.

“She took me out of retirement to run the store for her,” he said, adding the business is a family affair, with daughter Dana and grandson Chad helping out.

 The classic Stardust Records in Thiensville is looking for just the right buyer.
Photo by Mark Justesen

Kruegel is 74. While he clearly relishes talking shop and visiting with longtime loyal customers, he noted there’s a more challenging side to the job.

“The lifting is very difficult now,” he said. “I wrecked my back on one of those crates.”

Kruegel would love to scale back. He hopes his grandson might be interested in taking over the business. He’d also love to talk to anyone interested in buying the business.

“I’ll always be an advisor, if I can,” the Mequon resident said. “Even if someone from out of the family buys it, I’d go with it – if they want.”

Kruegel estimates there are 10,000 LPs and perhaps 75,000 45-rpm records in the store. While there’s an impressive collection upstairs, the bargains are in the basement. Spend a few hours and you might find a diamond in the rough for a buck.

There are a few rarities – The Marcels and Tangerine Zoo, both from the ’60s – behind the counter, but much of the store is a soundtrack of his customers’ youth.

 Flipping through albums from decades ago can take customers back to a time long ago.
Photo by Mark Justesen

“The ’80s are the biggest sellers – and I can’t keep Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in stock,” he said, adding blues recordings fly off the shelves.

Stardust Records has a loyal customer base from across Ozaukee County, but others travel greater distances.

On a recent weekday morning – when the store technically was closed – a regular customer made the 90-minute drive from Windsor, just outside Madison. Other regulars travel to Thiensville from Chicago and Spring Green to look for gems in the record bins. Customers have come from as far afield as Sweden and the Netherlands.

Kruegel said 45s are very big in Europe.

“Those early rockers, they’re loved more in Europe than here,” he said.

While new pressings are making a comeback, Kruegel looks back fondly on the heyday of vinyl, when Milwaukee had several major record stores, all now defunct. Radio Doctors was downtown, Great Lakes Records on the northwest side and Musical Memories on the lower East Side.

Even though extending his reach on the internet might be good for business, Kruegel said he won’t do it.

“We do not do mail order,” he said. “What comes in here gets sold in the store. I like to do a service to our customers to see the material first.”

If you’re passing through Thiensville and you see the lights on at Stardust Records & Collectibles, feel free to climb the front steps and knock.