Welcome D.C. audiophiles and lovers of all things vinyl. You’re a rare breed, you know that? Your fingers are calloused, worn down from the endless flicking of LPs. Your eyes are swift, only a split second glance needed to glean the value and obscurity of an old pressing as it flips onto the back the record before it. Your mustache is trimmed, because you probably have a mustache since that’s the kind of thing people like you have.
In any case, you love the aural integrity and sonic clarity that only real wax can offer. So you spend your leisure time seeking it out. There’s a good chance, then, that you knew about the official Record Store Crawl, happening this Saturday, August 6. At $35 for a bottomless brunch, gift bag, giveaways, and discounts at the shops, you knew it was a steal. Well, it’s sold out now. Shame. Here’s what it looked like up in New York.
You’ve still got a chance to hop onto the official afterparty with Good Old War at POV. You can RSVP here.
But if you’re feeling left out, just stop. It’s all good. I’ve got you. Thankfully, the majority of the DMV’s best shops are located in one tight bubble spanning Adams Morgan and the U Street Corridor. In one Saturday, I managed to tackle all of these local shops on foot, and I’m here to show you how you can too. Featuring all the stores and some suggestions for stops along the way, this is the D.C. Record Store Walking Tour.
2477 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Start your tour here! Songbyrd’s selection is modest, and they always have new releases from the top indie acts. A couple bins of used records. Order a coffee and you should be able to file through their whole collection in a few minutes. They have plans to expand their record section significantly, closing for a day or two to completely rearrange the space and double the record area.
Jonathan Druy, record buyer: “For the last fifteen months, Songbyrd has run a small vinyl shop, specializing in a carefully curated selection of new and reissued titles in hip hop, soul, jazz, classic rock, pop and indie. We also feature a collection of bargain used R&B and rock titles as well as collectible rare groove. There’s always been something for everyone, and since we are also a performance venue, we always make sure to sell the albums of bands who’ve played here. As we double the size of this collection in the coming weeks, we are also going to expand our selection of new and used vinyl we think our many DJs will enjoy digging through and spinning during their sets.”
Now walk down 18th Street. Along the way…
Places to eat: Donburi, Sakuramen, Amsterdam Falafelshop
Places to drink: Smoke & Barrel, Roofers Union, Bourbon
2314 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Punk and alternative are the focus here at this little 18th Street Bunker in AdMo.
Matt Moffatt, owner: “The biggest difference is that we’re not just a record store. I guess you could say we’re a ‘lifestyle’ store, or something like that. We sell stuff we like. Records are probably the biggest part of that, and they are our biggest sellers. Basically, I go around like a junkman; I go into other people’s lives and go to their yard sales and estate sales and take their junk or things I can find of value and try to resell it at a reasonable price. The music is definitely rock ‘n’ roll centric. It’s what I know best and it’s what the store is known for. Then, there’s a focus on alternative punk rock. We’re much narrower in scope than some other record stores.”
Bobby Polsky, buyer: “Smash! Records opened in Georgetown in 1984 and has been the premier punk and alternative music and clothing store in Washington, D.C. In 2006, we relocated to Adams Morgan. We specialize in punk, indie, alternative and classic rock ‘n’ roll LPs, CDs and 7″s. We carry a large stock of used LPs as well as new LPs. Additionally, we sell rock and roll t-shirts as well as vintage and indie designer fashions. We spend a lot of time scouring the city and suburbs for merchandise to sell in the store. We carry a wide range of items-our main criterion is selling stuff that we like and that we would buy.”
Continue walking down 18th Street. Take a left on U Street. Along the way…
Places to eat: Dessert time! The Cakeroom, Pleasant Pops
Places to drink: Jack Rose, Blaguard
Bonus: Hana Japanese Market
Red Onion Records
1628 U Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Red Onion boasts multiple aisles from various genres, and they always seem to at least touch on some of my obscure interests that I won’t find elsewhere. The relocation from Dupont Circle puts them squarely in the heart of D.C. Recordland, and the range of sounds seems to be more expansive and chronologically inclusive than other shops.
Joshua Harkavey, owner: “I try to have something for everyone. There are certain labels I love and I try to carry them. There are some smaller independent labels that I know a lot of stores don’t carry so it’s good to have something you can’t find elsewhere. I’m also pretty picky about condition. You’re not going to find scratched up records for over a dollar. I think I have a nice welcoming place to hang out and listen to music. I’ve never been to a town where all the records are so close to each other. I’m proud of the labels I carry. I carry certain categories you can’t find elsewhere; I have a lot of new age and I also really like electronica. I think it’s important to have a little bit of everything.”
Just one block further on U Street. Along the way…
Places to eat: Local 16
Places to drink: Also Local 16.
Bonus: The rooftop pool at Vida.
1530 U Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Joint Custody has the most boutique-like vibe of all the area stores, with a very clean aesthetic and a comfortable browsing experience. The vinyl stretches down the left wall toward the back of the store, and there’s associated merch and memorabilia.
Gene Melkisethian, co-owner: “We started Joint Custody to provide customers with the shopping experience we always wanted as record buyers. My partner James Ritter and I traveled all over the world with our band and combined all the things we loved about our favorite stores into what Joint Custody now is, while avoiding all of the things we hated. We carry a big selection of music we couldn’t find at other stores: hip hop, punk, heavy metal, rock rarities, international, jazz, psych, garage and soul, while also striving to provide the classics and current music we dig. We pack more records into our small space than just about any other store in the city and travel far and wide to the keep our stock dynamic and fresh. We also promise to never, ever, put price stickers directly onto record covers.”
Two blocks further on U Street. Take a right on 14th Street. Along the way…
Places to eat: DC Noodles, Tico, The BBQ Joint, Compass Rose
Places to drink: Marvin, Tropicalia, Lost Society, Saint Ex
Bonus: There’s a Trader Joe’s. And if you need more coffee there’s The Wydown.
1843 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
My favorite shop. Helpful staff, with lots of stuff crammed into the small basement space. A great place to end your record store walkthrough. Be sure to check out the bottom bins for some hidden gems; I love the old disco records they have tucked away. Now head down the block for a drink at Bar Pilar or a show at Black Cat.
Neal Becton, owner: “I work really hard at finding good records for the store. I pretty much spend four or five days a week out actively looking for collections and records. Som has been on 14th Street since 2006. I’ve been DJing for over twenty years and collecting records for over thirty so I pride myself on Som’s variety and selection. The jazz, soul, dance, country, gospel and international sections are all particularly strong and the dollar bins are the best in town and not just a graveyard for unwanted LPs.”
Here’s A Map!
Did you finish your tour and are still not satisfied? Looking to fill a crate? Well hop in a vehicle, because we’ve got a few other shops in the DMV that are worth your while. Commence the D.C. Record Store Driving Tour.
Hill & Dale
1054 31st Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Walking into this shop feels like you’re entering an art gallery. The two adjoining rooms and sterile black and white aesthetic with framed portraits is a far cry from the grunge and grit of the AdMo-U Street shops above. New vinyl only.
From Hill & Dale: “We created Hill & Dale Records for people who are looking for a place to discover, celebrate, and enjoy interesting music. A big part of our lives revolves around music and the people who create great sounds and songs. For years, we found music in local record stores and relied on recommendations from friends who shared our passion for music. When technology changed the way people find and enjoy music, the personal connections we found in record stores, and the excitement that came from opening a new LP became scarce. Hill & Dale is a place to find and enjoy music on records, with artwork, liner notes, and lyrics that you hold in your hands. We also offer beautiful posters and photographs that celebrate musicians and live performance. We’re not attached to one style of music and enjoy many genres, geographies, and traditions. Hill & Dale offers a variety of new and classic titles in pop, rock, jazz, folk, country, blues, electronica, and lots of material that’s hard to classify.”
802 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Va.
Counting down the days. Crooked Beat was neighbor to Smash! in Adams Morgan, but they shuttered their doors in May after 12 years of service to the community. The good news? They’ve found a new location in Alexandria. They could be open by the end of this month, and when it comes, it will be a good day.
Bill Daly, owner: “Well, in general, indie stores are a reaction to places like Best Buy, which sold for losses. At Crooked Beat, I didn’t want to focus on the hit of the moment. I wanted to focus on indie, underground, imported, and hard-to-find records. Crooked Beat is a place for people looking to find back records from bands like the Rolling Stones and the Clash.”
105 Park Avenue, Falls Church, Va.
Don’t let the name fool you. The Falls Church shop is vinyl-focused, added five rows of recent stock in just the past month. There are CDs, to be sure, plus DVDs and books. Metro accessible. The store fits their tagline: “Used. Cheap. Out of control.”
The Record Exchange
8642 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Md.
One of two notable shops in Silver Spring, The Record Exchange also has a location up in Frederick. The floor is pretty cool. There were lots of cassettes when I stopped in, and also some old school Disney VHS. <3 Nostalgia, that’s what a lot of this is about anyway, right? Why else would people be playing Pokémon Go?
From The Record Exchange: “The Record Exchange is a family owned and operated business which has been in existence since the early 1970’s. It started life in the back of a revolutionary book store in Cleveland Ohio, and grew to a household name in that area. To ride the economic times of 2008 and in reaction to the shift of musical media from CD’s to digital, the company consolidated to two brick and mortar stores and a thriving on-line sales business. The Record Exchange is known within the community for its customer service and fair trading policies. We strive to reduce, reuse and recycle by encouraging customers to trade in all their unwanted music, movies and video games. This policy puts The Record Exchange at the forefront of the global environmentally friendly market.”
Joe’s Record Paradise
8700 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Md.
The other Silver Spring shop was a staple in the community, having operated in various locations in Montgomery County since 1974. For the past several months, however, it’s been in a hellish limbo trying to secure permits to move into a new location at 8700 Georgia Avenue. They even started a crowdfunding page to help. Hopefully they can return with a bang instead of going out with a whimper.