It’s the end of an era for DJs and the club scene in Chicago.
Midwest Pro Sound & Lighting, the city’s leading DJ and pro-audio retailer since 1976, is scheduled to close at the end April. Owners Sami and Bettye Lavi decided now is the time to liquidate the store’s inventory, sell the building and enjoy a life where they aren’t tied to the day-to-day of running their popular store near the six-corners intersection of Lincoln, Ashland and West Belmont avenues in the Windy City.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Sami Lavi. “People are coming in, even crying, ‘I can’t believe you’re closing.’ But it’s time.”
Both said it is a bittersweet moment for them. On the one hand, they’ll have time to travel and enjoy life without being tied to long hours, six days a week at the store. Sami chuckled that he semi-retired a decade ago, and now it’s time for his wife to have more time, too.
“We should have done this five years ago, 10 years ago,” Sami said. “But this is our baby. We built this. It’s hard to let it go, but now it’s time.”
To be clear, the pandemic was not the reason for the closing, they said. But, like so many other businesses during this time, it gave them clarity on the decision and the timing.
“COVID made it clear,” Bettye said. “I just didn’t have the desire or energy to wait for this to be over and come out of it, to rebuild.”
From Humble Beginnings
The journey for the Lavis began when Sami moved to Chicago from Israel and began working at Midwest Stereo in 1976. The store sold car stereos and even televisions at the time. He bought the company two years later, and soon after that rap music exploded onto the scene.
“It was very hard because I didn’t know anything about the DJ business,” Sami said. “But once I learned, it was very interesting. The money was good. Plus, there wasn’t competition like you have online now — no such thing as online. Just a guy down the street, and I would always win that fight. [laughs] When you’d go there, you’d deal with the employee. When you came to my store, you’d deal with me. I could make the decisions. I could go as low as I wanted.”
The DJ business wasn’t even a real business until the 1980s. When it started growing, Sami slowly got out of selling televisions and car audio, instead focusing on the gear that DJs wanted and needed, and then on the gear clubs and other venues needed.
In 1991, Bettye Lavi, who grew up in the same hometown as Sami, moved to Chicago. They got married that year, and she began working in the store.
What was it like to jump into her new family’s business?
“I didn’t know any English, and I had to learn on the job,” Bettye said. “I knew enough to speak a little.”
Together, they became a formidable team.
“It was such a great business,” Sami said. “It was exciting. I didn’t mind working seven days a week. I just loved it. For me, it was like going out. All the clubs knew us — all the clubs, VIP. We were the guys in town.”
The booming DJ business led Midwest Pro Sound into the audio business, but it wasn’t easy to get lines at first.
“That was a hard business to get into,” Sami said. “The manufacturers didn’t want to deal with a small store like mine. They wanted the big guys — Guitar Center and stores like that.”
When asked about the first manufacturer to give him a break, Sami countered with who gave him a hard time.
“I remember JBL, and we still laugh about it now,” he said. “My rep said, ‘Sami, you don’t have enough room here,’ and I said, ‘But I’ll sell a lot of stuff, please give me some.’ It took two years before they opened me up.”
Sami, being older than his wife, took a step back from the business around 2008. He was still involved, but Bettye took over the day-to-day operations.
“I never took over,” she smiled. “He’s still the boss man.”
They Did It Their Way
Both said they will miss certain aspects of the business and not miss others.
“I will miss the friendships that I made with people, the day-to-day friendships with the guys that I work with,” Bettye said. “I will miss the boss-lady part of things, and I won’t miss the boss-lady part of things. I like to be in charge, but I won’t miss the responsibility of being in charge, the price of being in charge.”
While they pointed out how much the business has changed, especially in recent years, Sami and Bettye Lavi agree on one thing — they wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was a good run,” Bettye said. “It was a successful run for us. We raised a family. We got to spend time together. We enjoyed each other’s company together. I wouldn’t change anything. This is who we are. This is how we chose to make a living. And, we are grateful for everything that this business has given us. It’s time to enjoy what we worked so hard for.” MI