Record Store Day Washington, D.C.: Smash!, Crooked Beat, Red Onion

Bill Allen, of Washington D.C.'s Smash! Records says Record Store Day is easily one of the biggest days his store will have all year.

In Washington, D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood on Saturday afternoon, set against a backdrop of Ethiopian restaurants and global boutiques lining the area's bustling 18th Street corridor, a conga line of shoppers traipsed up and down the thoroughfare with bagged vinyl under wing. The area is the Nation's Capitol's epicenter for Record Store Day celebrations with three of the city's seven participating independent music retailers situated on 18th Street and two more a few blocks away.

Ducking into Smash! Records late in the afternoon, the 30-year-old music store (formerly in Georgetown) is full. Lines spontaneously form before mostly combed-over crates of 7” vinyl up front and two bins of 12” vinyl in back beneath a Ramones poster. This is where the Record Store Day exclusives sit, a small portion of the nearly 500 limited edition vinyl released exclusively for the nation-wide event.  This late in the day limited edition singles by Wanda Jackson and Julia Ruin, a double album by the Pixies and a ten-inch Ramones' “Meltdown” EP  in blue vinyl are still available.

“This year we ordered a couple of crates worth of Record Store Day releases,” said Bill Allen, the store's self-described senior employee who himself has picked up Devo's “Live at Max's Kansas City 11/15/77” RSD exclusive. “Record Store Day is easily one of the biggest days we'll have all year,” Allen says from behind the store where a free snack buffet awaits patrons.

Washington, D.C.'s Crooked Beat store sells more exclusive RSD vinyl than almost any other store on the East Coast.

 

A few blocks down 18th Street is Crooked Beat, a store selling more Record Store Day product than almost any retailer on the East Coast.  “They came in on two pallets off  two different tractor trailers,”  says Bill Daly the store's owner referring to the bins filled with exclusives that include a David Bowie 7" picture disc and a William Onyeabor remix LP that take up the front portion of the long narrow store.

Daly estimates he will sell about eighty percent of its RSD exclusive product and close to forty-percent of the store's regular stock. 

When asked about some of the criticisms of Record Store Day (like exclusives on eBay days before Saturday's festivities or majors re-releasing “exclusives” a few months after RSD), Daly is most critical of the labels return policy. “Record labels need to have a return policy on vinyl,” he says. “Suppose you buy $5,000 worth of  product, they should give you a 10% return policy, otherwise the risk is all on the record stores” [Music stores can't return vinyl, but can more easily return CD stock].

About the labels re-release of exclusives Daly is more adamant. “They should not be dong it,” he says, “it should be cut and dry. They're numbered and then they move on. If they release them, it should be a couple of years later.”

Though Daly has been up since at least dawn with the store opening up at 8:00 a.m. for frequent customers, the store owner lights up when asked how this year's national celebration of independent music retail went.  “It's a fun day," he says. It's very tiring – we actually start getting ready for this in February – but it's a fun day."

Red Onion Records in Washington D.C.

Finally, hitting Red Onion Records further down 18th Street at about 6:00 p.m. the music retailer is just about out of exclusive vinyl—on a list by the cash register most titles are crossed off. There is a Gram Parsons exclusive someone at the encounter is examining and another customer comes up to inquire about the music of electronic music producet Tim Hecker. When store owner Josh Harkavy is asked if he has time for a quick interview, the retailer politely declines—it's clear he too has had a long day.