Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In search of old 45s

Boxes of 45 rpm records at Washington's Crooked Beat
Some free time and lovely weather inspired me to a walking tour of Washington, D.C. record stores last weekend. The stores were interesting, the exercise did me good, and it might have something to say about urbanism to boot.

We begin at Dupont Circle, a wheel of pavement the spokes of which are Connecticut Ave, New Hampshire Av, P St and 19th St. The interior is a nice park, and the exterior has sidewalks on both sides, but I found it confusing to walk, even in light Saturday afternoon traffic. There are lights at each intersection, but the walk times are so few and far between that one is tempted to walk any time there aren't vehicles approaching. This is perfectly rational at a conventional intersection, but probably not at a roundabout.

West of Dupont Circle is Second Story Books, 2000 P St. It mostly sells used books, so its name is somewhat appropriate, although it occupies the entire building, and sometimes even...
..the sidewalk!

They did have a few LPs, mainly jazz, albeit a wide selection of that genre. Note the late Miles Davis album at the front of the middle box.

The 45s were in an alcove, with this inspirational saying posted above them.
What Cicero would think of a music collection without 45s is unrecorded, but I bet if he were alive today he wouldn't think twice about it. The staples of my youth have been overtaken successively by CDs and mp3s, so only the rare collector still traffics in these guys.

Next on our tour: Red Onion, 1901 18th St (corner of T St).

Now we're north of Dupont Circle and into the Adams Morgan neighborhood. The Red Onion is located in the basement of a building, and features mostly funk and hard rock LPs.

Outside, banners along the street celebrate the Adams Morgan neighborhood, and invite people to "Shop," "Eat," "Play" and "Live." This is a good example of place branding. I stayed for two weeks in this area in the 1980s during a short stint at the Brookings Institution, and had no idea it had a name. Now I do!

Up 18th Street at 2116, is another basement shop, Crooked Beat Records.
They claim a variety of genres (see sign at left), and sell new and used LPs and 45s. Their top three sellers in August were Spoon, Ty Segall and Insurgence DC.

Used LPs to the left, new to the right, 45s at the front of the store.

The view across the street.

Our final stop is Smash!, at 2314 18th St. It has new and used CDs and LPs, primarily rock, but as you can tell from the window display is distinguished by its selection of "vintage" clothing.

It also has 45s, but seriously? You couldn't have found another selection for the front of the box?

Three used record shops in a space of five blocks says something about a neighborhood. While each store had a few customers during the time I was there, neither the format nor the music itself is mainstream enough to attract squads of them. Ergo, rents are low in Adams Morgan. 18th Street has quite a few odd shops and little restaurants, but also small grocery stores, drug stores, a locksmith and an animal hospital--in other words, establishments catering to people's everyday lives. In contrast to Dupont Circle, which featured franchises like Panera Bread, Starbucks' and Books-a-Million, Adams Morgan has locally-owned businesses like the coffeehouses called Jolt n Bolt, L'Enfant CafĂ©-Bar and Adams Morgan Coffee Shop. There are places for parking, but the area is not overwhelmed by parking lots.

So, hooray for a walkable, livable neighborhood with locally-owned small businesses. My hometown of Cedar Rapids lacks the population or the density to do this on such a large scale, and it remains to be seen whether it can expand on the few efforts that have begun or will continue to conceive of commercial life in terms of franchise outlets and Super Wal-Marts.

Adams Morgan is a neighborhood that, at first superficial glance based on one walk-around, seems to have found the right equilibrium between gentrification and affordability. Maintaining that is surely tricky. How do you keep from tipping either to excess gentrification or insufficient capital?

RELATED POST: "Local Businesses," June 6, 2013

ON HOUSING COSTS IN DC (not differentiated by area, at least not in ways I can interpret): David Alpert, "How Fast Housing in DC is Growing Unaffordable, in 3 Charts," Greater Greater Washington, 8 October 2014, http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24483/how-fast-housing-in-dc-is-growing-unaffordable-in-3-charts/

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