For your vinyl consumption

As CD sales decline nationally, stocking major-label discs has become increasingly costly for independent music stores like Crooked Beat Records. Located in the basement of the original Madam’s Organ building on 18th Street, the store now focuses almost primarily on promoting the sale of vinyls.

For some music enthusiasts, record collecting fills a significant niche – for reasons ranging from pure sound quality to nostalgia. An independent store’s success is based largely on engaging with this collecting community.

Bill Daly, the owner of Crooked Beat Records, said that at least 30 percent of store sales come from online orders. The store’s Web site, crookedbeat.com, acts as an extension of the store itself, selling vinyl to online customers and posting history and news related to Crooked Beat and its surrounding community. Further success comes from the store’s ability to foster relationships with a base of devoted regulars that include collectors, local DJs and students. And with a staff of collectors and a turntable available for customer use, Crooked Beat attracts a steady clientele by bridging community interests.

“I would not be anywhere near where I an today if it weren’t for record store owners,” said area DJ Will Eastman, founder of the eight-year-old BLISS dance party, held every fourth Saturday at the Black Cat. Eastman, an avid collector of vinyl, emphasized that independent stores provide a space for discourse between listeners and artists. “I heard about the Velvet Underground for the first time from an independent record store,” he said, adding that speaking with Daly at Crooked Beat led him to feature certain tracks at his dance nights.

The store, originally based in Raleigh, N.C., relocated to the District in April 2003. Daly said he knew the District had a gap to fill in the vinyl market because of the demand for mail orders to the city. He also wanted to establish a community within a larger metropolitan area.

Vinyl communities tend to have the universal components of “either weird, strange obsessive collectors or people who are new to vinyl, who create a subset in the music community,” said store manager Matt Joyner, who was a loyal customer of Crooked Beat before landing the job. He characterized the store as a gathering space, saying that people go there for the reassurance that someone else listens to their favorite bands.

Joyner said that as many as half of the store’s top-selling albums are those put out by area artists. The store, he said, makes a conscious effort to support local musicians because they support the store.

To get good vinyl records you have to go to an independent shop and interact with people who know music, he added, giving a nod to the space Crooked Beat fills and the niche success the store has achieved: “You can’t get good vinyls at your local Best Buy.” n

-Amanda Pacitti contributed to this article.

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