A Guide to Washington’s Record Stores

Despite recent closures, Washington still has independent record stores. Here’s where to find them.

By: Matt Carr

Photograph courtesy of Flickr user FourthFloor.

Here’s a glimpse at the music industry in 2012: Major labels are beginning to abandon the CD format, Spotify has made digital music free thanks to its streaming services, and record stores are an endangered species (there are only about 700 independently owned shops left in the US). The Washington area has seen its share of closures in recent years, including DJ Hut, Olsson’s Books and Records, and Orpheus Records—and last week, Dupont’s Melody Records announced it, too, is shutting down after a 34-year run. But the music landscape isn’t all bleak. Vinyl is the medium of choice for serious music fans, and there are numbers to prove it: Nielsen Soundscan reports vinyl sales increased by 39.3 percent from 2010 to 2011. If you prefer long-term numbers, that’s 2.8 million more records sold in 2011 than ten years earlier in 2001. If you’re a music fan, head to your neighborhood shop to show your support. Here’s a rundown of some of the area’s best.


CD Cellar

709 B W. Broad St., Falls Church; 703-534-6318; 2607 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-248-0635.

At Virginia staple CD Cellar, you can find everything from a complete boxed set of the Smiths’ eight albums on 12-inch vinyl to the new Washed Out LP. Stocked with thousands of titles in both vinyl and CD formats, the store’s two locations offer a multitude of used and new records. If the flagship Fairfax location, open since 1992, doesn’t have the release you’re looking for, the staff will call and check its Arlington store. Don’t worry about trekking back and forth between shops, as titles can be transferred from store to store at your convenience. And if you’re looking to sell or trade in your collection, CD Cellar buys CDs, LPs, and DVDs and offers cash or store credit in return.

 

Crooked Beat Records

2318 18th St., NW; 202-483-2328.

A sign on Crooked Beat’s cash register reads: “Vinyl has consistently outsold CDs for us since 2007. Vinyl is now 99 percent of our total sales.” Store owner Bill Daly told me they used to carry about 5,500 CDs. That number is down now to about 40, comprising mostly rarities and boxed sets. This Adams Morgan legend is for the true vinyl connoisseur and boasts one of the biggest selections in DC, with two large rows of LPs lining the store—one dedicated to new releases, the other to used. Titles here are helpfully organized so that side and solo projects are filed under the original act: Under the Band, you’ll also find Robbie Robertson, and stacked with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is frontman Alec Ounsworth’s solo LP. Crooked Beat’s staff also works tirelessly to enter all of its records—new and used—into an online database so record hunters too busy to stop by the shop can still get their fix by mail order.

 

Joe’s Record Paradise

8216 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-585-3269.

Relocated from Rockville to Silver Spring, Joe’s Record Paradise has been around since 1974, dealing in everything from rock, jazz, and hip-hop to go-go and bluegrass. You can sell or trade your used or new LPs, CDs, cassettes, DVDs, and even VHS tapes here, just so long as it’s music-related. If your vinyl is too scratched-up to play, Joe’s will take that too. The store sends unusable LPs down to Nashville to be recycled into new LPs.

 

Record Exchange

8236 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-495-0766; 151 N. Market St., Frederick; 301-644-1166.

The Record Exchange (formerly the CD/Game Exchange) is a bit of an everything store. Along with CDs, vinyl, and cassettes, both locations buy and sell turntables, speakers, video game systems, and an assortment of memorabilia, including band T-shirts and posters. If you have a scratched CD, the staff can whip it back into playable shape for $2.99.

 

Record & Tape Xchange

9448 Main St., Fairfax; 703-425-4256.

RTX, around since 1976, boasts more than 100,000 titles in CD, DVD, and vinyl formats. Vinyl aficionados willing to wade through boxes of unalphabetized 45s and LPs will find plenty of great deals and the occasional out-of-print treasure here. If you’re looking to freshen up your collection, RTX also specializes in buying and exchanging records and movies for cash or store credit.

 

Red Onion Records & Books

1901 18th St., NW; 202-986-2718.

Down a few steps and across the entryway from Adams Cleaners is Josh Harkavy’s basement haven for book and record junkies. What Red Onion lacks in size it more than makes up for in its thoughtfully curated selection. New LPs here aren’t organized by genre, but rather by record label. Alongside indie rock heavyweights like Sub Pop you’ll find Chicago reissue label Numero Group; Warwick; New York’s purveyors of rustic psychedelia, Woodsist; and hard-to-find rarities from Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi Records. Crate diggers will also find some of the best deals in town in Harkavy’s used vinyl section. For the cerebral fan, there’s also an entire section of used books dedicated to music.

 

Roadhouse Oldies

914 Silver Spring Ave., Silver Spring; 301-587-1858.

Vintage concert posters featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder and DC’s own Chuck Brown decorate the walls of this Silver Spring institution. Owned and operated by professional radio deejays since 1974, this store specializes in classic ’70s and ’80s soul, Motown, doo-wop, and 1950s and ’60s rock and roll. Marvin GayeRay Charles, and Isaac Hayes are just a few of the artists you’ll find in stacks of used 45s and LPs. Aside from vinyl, Roadhouse also offers a selection of cassettes, CDs, concert DVDs, and turntables.

 

Smash! Records

2314 18th St., NW; 202-387-6274.

You might hear the New York Dolls blaring through the speakers as you enter this DC institution. Relocated from the second to the first floor of its Adams Morgan digs, Smash! is the go-to spot for everything punk, from studded belts and leather jackets to the quintessential black Converse. And of course, there’s also the music. Though punk is the specialty here, a wide variety of genres are covered in CD, cassette, and vinyl formats. In the LP section, you’ll find a stack of Morrissey’s solo records sitting directly behind the Misfits, for the punk fan with a tender heart.

 

Som Records

1843 14th Street NW; 202-328-3345.

Just down the street from the Black Cat and next door to Cafe Saint-Ex lies Neal Becton’s small vinyl utopia, Som Records. LPs and 45s line every wall and ceiling at Som, where you’ll find limited-edition Thai Funk compilations wrapped in decorative cloths and entire sections dedicated to local music. Along with the standard indie rock fare, the knowledgeable Becton offers a carefully curated stock of jazz and world music, including Brazilian samba.

 

Vienna Music Exchange

131 Church St. #4., Vienna; 703-938-0010.

Fans of the heavier stuff—think Iron MaidenMayhem, and Black Sabbath—will find kindred spirits at this Vienna hub, which specializes in metal and old-school punk. Used and new vinyl and CDs are bought and sold here, along with music-related books, T-shirts, and collectibles.

 

Did we miss a favorite record store of yours? Let us know in the comments.