As 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly’s full-time assistant, Nuntida Sirisombatwattana coordinates meetings, trains interns, and does whatever else is needed to keep an office running smoothly. She likes her job and has worked there for over a decade. But when the alderman’s week is set, hers is just beginning. She also co-owns Shady Rest Vintage & Vinyl, a two-year-old Pilsen storefront specializing in vinyl and hi-fi equipment, where she’s a buyer, seller, and bookkeeper.
Born in Edgewater and raised in the northwest suburbs, Sirisombatwattana runs the store with her long-term partner and fellow vinyl fan Peter Kepha (who does not have another job). The small, airy space holds their curated collection, featuring everything from glass-topped turntables to vintage Mexican movie posters to a perfectly preserved pressing of Sunnyland Slim’s “Just You and Me.” Kepha manages the store during the week, with Sirisombatwattana typically coming in on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Sirisombatwattana has never considered leaving her day job, which she finds satisfying. But 20 percent of her monthly income does go towards the store. While she and Kepha currently rely on this amount to keep Shady Rest running, they hope that they can make it self-sustaining over the next few years.
We spoke about the challenges of running your own business while working for the city, the problem-solving that keeps her and Kepha afloat, and whether she plans to keep dividing her time between two careers.
Is it hard to balance both jobs?
The hard part to balance is when I’m exhausted. It is very tiring, and then you have to kind of let some other things go. Sometimes our house is a complete wreck. My responsibilities for the alderman generally remain the same, but they increase during campaign season, budget season (six weeks in October and November), or if he is prepping for a big community meeting (several times each month).
How do you juggle working both the store and the alderman's office during especially busy times?
Peter helps out a lot, especially when my job is high-stress. He recognizes when he needs to pick up the slack. I think we’ve succeeded in finding a balance between my job and the store because we have clearly defined job descriptions: Peter does the majority of the buying, working the store, and dealing with customers, and listing product online. I help out with buying, work with him in the store on weekends, and make sure all the financial responsibilities are taken care of. I handle a lot of the business stuff.
Does your day job ever overlap with Shady Rest? Does the alderman ever come in and pick up some vinyl?
No, he doesn’t. But he’s very supportive. When I told him I was thinking about this he said, “Whatever help you need, just let me know.” When we were talking about applying for a loan, he volunteered to be listed as a reference.
There really isn’t a ton of overlap other than connecting with people. If you’re working for an alderman, you need to have good constituent service. Those are the people who vote you into office, the people you need to take care of. I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway: recognizing that you want to connect with the person that’s coming in — and I think we do.
Did you end up using the alderman as a reference?
We actually didn’t end up getting a business loan. It would have been a lot of paperwork and time and effort. We maxed out a lot of credit cards, pulled from savings, and family helped a bit too. I have good credit — I’ve been working since I was 16, so getting a loan worked better. We are lucky in that there aren’t a lot of costs associated with our business model: we already had all of our inventory from our collections, and a build-up of product from selling at fairs every month.
That’s great that you could be open with the alderman from the beginning.
If you work with the city, you have to make sure that you report any financial interest in a person or entity that applied for a City of Chicago license, franchise, permit, or rezoning of real estate. Because of that, I have to report the business license for Shady Rest.
Did you have any growing pains when you started out?
Our first winter, we had almost no sales. It would be ridiculously slow, which was really disheartening. We limited buying new products and pulled from our personal collection. By the second winter, we were able to forecast for less sales during that time. We knew it was going to be tough, so we started listing a lot of stuff online during the winter. We also continued to sell at Randolph Street Market during the winter months, and sometimes closed the store during those weekends if we felt we'd have more sales at the market.
There were times when it didn’t feel manageable, but I always knew that we could figure it out — between the two of us, we could make it work.
Do you see yourself working both jobs for the foreseeable future?
I do. Working for the alderman has given me the freedom to do this. We’re not at a point right now where I can quit my job.
Would you want to?
I think so? But that’s a long-term goal. We both want to be in this for the long haul.