They say you can’t go home again. But you can move pretty close and take a large business risk while you’re at it.
For most of its first five years, Silver Spring native Bill Daly’s Raleigh, N.C.–based record store Crooked Beat pulled in a hefty portion of its mail-order sales from District-dwelling record geeks. Specializing in vintage LPs, imports, and obscurities, the store easily distinguished itself from the surrounding competition. But after his wife was laid off for the third time in two years, Daly decided a change of scene was in order.
After being advised by his distributors to move to Chicago to be better oriented for the mail-order biz (“I’ve never even been to Chicago,” he says derisively), Daly made a phone call to Dischord Records’ Alec Bourgeois, who mentioned that D.C. had a need for his type of store. Not too long after, Daly uprooted his base of operations and made his way north.
It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a happy homecoming: Daly, 40, and shop co-owner Neil Becton (aka DJ Neville Chamberlain), 42, “looked for a year and a half” for space before settling in Adams Morgan, Daly explains. “We couldn’t get owners of the buildings to call us back. And sometimes when they did, they were like, ‘Why do you want to open a record store?’”
Even with DCCD’s still-warm corpse less than a block away, Daly remains optimistic. Mail-order and large chains offer convenience, he notes, but where there’s an active indie music community, there’s no shortage of collectors like himself, for whom any afternoon spent silently flipping through bins of old vinyl is a good one. “To me, it’s a part of a neighborhood, a necessary part of the city,” he says.
Crooked Beat’s site, at 2318 18th St. NW, is itself a punk landmark, perhaps best known as the original site of Madam’s Organ—where Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and S.O.A. made their mark in the early ’80s. The address’s most dubious distinction, however, can be attributed to its previous tenant.
“It was—uh, an Asian massage parlor,” mutters Daly. Currently hanging above the washroom entrance in the back of the store is a Michel Legrand soundtrack titled The Happy Ending. “Neil put that up,” Daly says. “It’s the Happy Endings Room.”
This legacy didn’t help Daly and Becton’s not-so-grand-opening headaches. In addition to a major software debacle—which has kept the pair from setting up the store’s Web site or cataloging inventory and sales—city inspectors were on the prowl. Finally, after the wires were checked, the plumbing tested, and the back rooms inspected for signs of unsavory activity, Crooked Beat opened its doors Sept. 16—at which point the majority of the shelves were still barren.
A month later, however, the venture is showing promise. On a recent Friday afternoon, Daly has a hard time answering a question without being interrupted by a distributor calling or a customer forking over cash for a stack of discs. With Becton bringing in used records on a daily basis, Daly expects the shelves to be fully filled by the end of the month. And that doesn’t include the massive secret stash Becton keeps outside of the store.
“He has a mini storage room with about 35,000 LPs,” Daly says, with detectable awe. “So…he’s got to get that organized.”