Crooked Beat Records owner Bill Daly always planned to open a store in Alexandria, Virginia. He just didn’t expect to do it so soon.
“This store was supposed to be our second store,” Daly said. “We were supposed to open one here and still maintain one there. If you had told me a year ago that we would have a store in Alexandria or Arlington, I would have said, ‘No, we’ll have our second store here in Alexandria, but we’ll always be here in D.C.'”
The move began last spring, when the store announced it would be shuttering its Adams Morgan location after 12 years in the neighborhood. Citing structural damage and rat infestations, the owners announced in 2016 they would be leaving and looking for a new location. But in an era when physical record sales have largely given way to streaming, fans and customers wondered what would come of the D.C. music fixture. The shop eventually found a new location in Alexandria and reopened for business in September of last year.
Nearly six months after the move, Crooked Beat seems to be settling into the neighborhood just fine.
“We’ve been here six months, and basically the sales are almost the same,” Daly said. “We’re a 100 percent destination point. In Adams Morgan we had other businesses all around us, but here it’s, ‘Let’s go to Crooked Beat.’ A lot of people have continued to come to us. I’m flattered and I’m happy.”
For senior film studies major Michael Levy, shopping at brick-and-mortar stores like Crooked Beat is good for the community and for his collection.
“I try to buy from local, independent record stores because I want them to stay in business,” Levy said. “There’s nothing like going to the store and flipping through a crate of records to discover and album with an interesting cover, or stumbling across a gem that somehow ended up in a dollar bin.”
Students at this university may have to travel farther than in the past to flip through their wares, but alumnus Ryan Costigan says the trek is worth the effort.
“I appreciate Crooked Beat’s inventory,” Costigan said. “They had and still have a great blend of new and old, they carry more records than a lot of stores, you can really spend time in there.”
The Alexandria location is both bigger and brighter, offering 1,500 more records than before and ample space for in-store performances. With thousands of new and used records, it’s easy to spend hours looking for a new favorite album or finding rarities on the shelves.
With vinyl record sales expected to near 40 million units in 2017, stores like Crooked Beat are feeling success that hasn’t been seen since vinyl’s heyday in the ’80s. Daly chalks some of that success up to supporting and playing local artists.
“If you look at our top 20 sellers of all time … three of them are Dischord [Records] bands. If we went up to our top 20, six of them are Fugazi titles and two of them are Minor Threat,” Daly said. “Ian [MacKaye] told me one time, ‘You guys sell a lot of our titles,’ and I told him, ‘Well, it’s because we play it. Most local bands sell really well because we play them.'”
Crooked Beat’s support for local artists is evident from the moment customers walk in. A bin devoted to D.C. artists sits front and center, featuring albums from local bands and releases from the store’s own imprint, Crooked Beat Records. The label’s 2016 release, a 12-inch compilation titled A Bang On An Ear, featured D.C. artists Mobius Strip, Don Zientara and Insurgence Da Capo. Of the 700 copies pressed, 90 percent were sold, making it the store’s biggest seller of 2016.
With Record Store Day returning in April and the store’s 20th anniversary coming in November, Crooked Beat shows no sign of slowing down. Some of their plans include opening a second store in Washington and booking shows in an Alexandria park. But for now, Daly and staff are just glad to be thriving again.
“Nothing beats having a community record store,” he said. “People come in talk to you, you buy vinyl, you bring new vinyl in, you talk about music … nothing beats that.”