Saturday, March 27, 2010

On D.C.'s record stores

As I somewhat eluded to in my breathless endorsement of Smash! Records, I had been somewhat disappointed in the selection of D.C.'s records stores since I moved here last fall. I hadn't really found a go-to shop. All the ones I had visited seemed to have some good qualities -- which I'll get into -- but I hadn't found THEE store that I'd visit every week or two just to look around.

To explain why I felt like this, it's useful to back up a bit... When I lived in Minneapolis, even before I had a record player, trips to a few core record stores were a weekly occurrence for me. It was what I did on a given Saturday afternoon. Depending on how much time I had, or wanted to spend, I'd choose between the Cheapo in St. Paul, the Cheapo in Uptown Minneapolis, the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis or the Fifth Element -- the record store of hometown label Rhymesayers -- for a hip hop fix. If I felt really ambitious, or had extra money to spend, I'd go to all of them, just to look around. I plan a post in honor of all these places soon, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, like I said. I hadn't -- and still really haven't -- found a shop here that replaces any of those in Minneapolis. Silver Spring's CD/Game Exchange has provided some good finds, but not a lot of new stuff, and which means it's as good as what they have at any given time -- which, admittedly, is usually pretty damn good. Smash!, of course, provided a great selection of used stuff, but didn't have much in the area of new vinyl to offer and lacked a strong collection outside of general rock. Melody Records is where I go for most of my new vinyl. It's where I picked up Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and when I went for Vampire Weekend's 'Contra,' they were sold out, but they ordered a new one for me within a day or two. That was nice. I still haven't checked out Crooked Beat Records -- right next door to Smash -- but that's next on the list.

The problem is, I haven't really found one that seems to be a large, general interest-type shop that has a big collection of both new and used vinyl. Cheapo in Minneapolis has a huge basement full. Electric Fetus has row after row of new and used stuff. But what I've found here is that they're more specialized: They each have their strong points and drawbacks. While it's not ideal, it's not all bad either.

Perhaps this is just the reality of D.C. There's only one really artsy, bohemian, hipster or whatever you want to call it -- basically where you'd expect to find record stores -- area here and that's where Smash and Crooked Beat are. Melody is close by. This isn't unusual, I think, given the make up of D.C., what with all the lawyers, politicians and former class presidents running around. It took us a few weeks just to find a place where we could buy a hookah. In Minneapolis it's like you can't walk two blocks without finding a head shop.

But what this situation has forced me to do is keep an eye on all the shops, try and keep track of what might be coming in and experiencing knew stuff. I visit CD/Game Exchange probably the most because it's less than a mile from my house. I follow them on Twitter, check out the Web sites and get a sense for what they're all about. It's a different experience than I had in Minneapolis, but it's not bad. And, just sometimes, you go into a shop here and find some great stuff. The next time you don't, so onto the next. I suppose there are worse things and it is exciting to be discovering new shops. And it's definitely exciting to find some great things at a new shop (Exhibit A: Smash records. B: CD/Game Exchange).

But you better believe next time I'm in Minneapolis, I'll be making the rounds to Cheapo, Electric Fetus and Fifth Element all over again. I'm an admitted/recovering homer. But D.C.'s got some great offerings.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I remember this many record (vinyl) stores in or around DC at one time since the decline of vinyl to CD. I think this is great having grown up on my Dad's Crass and Yellowman albums back in the late 70's and early 80's. Although great we can't forget that the stores that have been around since the 70's have had to adapt to stay alive. We @ The CD/Game Exchange even change our name in the mid ninties from "The Record Exchange" to "The CD/Game Exchange" and branched out into VHS/DVD/Video Games (Sega Genesis then was the biggie). You had more chance of braiding shit than selling new vinyl back in 1997. We have ALWAYS carried vinyl but it was pushed to the back of stores during the 90's and early 2000's. Joe's Record Paradise is about the only store around here that rode it out by staying a vinyl based store but even they branched out and carried a wide selection of CD's, ETC.
    I hope vinyl is back for the long haul, I really do, but as a business owner you have to be able to adapt because if I had have done as your photo at top left suggests "No CD's No Tapes...Just Records" back in the 90's I would have gone under.
    Keep up the great blog and please stop by and say Hi,
    Sam @ The CD/Game Exchange