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Red Onion Records & Books, one of four used-record shops in Adams Morgan, is due to close Sept. 30. The subterranean shop, which Washington City Paper lauded in two consecutive Best Of D.C. issues, has attracted a loyal customer base since it opened in late 2006. But owner Josh Harkavy is ready to try his hand at something else.
“I’m just not really happy anymore, owning a brick-and-mortar business,” Harkavy told City Paper last week. Unlike Dupont’s Melody Records, which shuttered last year citing a cash shortage, making rent hasn’t been a big problem for Red Onion. Harkavy now pays $1,625 a month, which he considers affordable. He wasn’t affected by the recent hubbub over licenses for used-goods shops, either; the shop already had a secondhand business license. It’s just that working out of a basement six days a week has gotten a little tiring for the 35-year-old Hyattsville resident. “I think it’s time to move on, see what else is out there.”
He plans to continue selling vinyl. “I still want to sell records. I’ll always want to find and sell records—-I think it’s kind of fun,” he says. “I’m just going to work on some strategies.”
Like opening a stand at the flea market at 14th Street and Florida Avenue NW, which he’d like to do soon, and selling records via his email list, which customers can subscribe to on the shop’s website. “We have a pretty strong email list, and I used to send out emails every couple weeks of new arrivals,” he says. “Now I want to focus on that, so it’ll be like a store without a store. Basically I’ll continue to go out and find stuff, and every week I’ll email my newest acquisitions, and if you find something you want, I can ship it to you.” He says he’ll even deliver. He’s also been bandying about an idea for a record truck—-like a District Taco for vinyl.
“I was going to close about a year ago [but I] felt like I should give it more time,” he says. “I’m happy that this is not happening for bad reasons. I’m doing it on my terms. The store, while I love the location, I feel like the space is not my dream space, and I don’t want to continue to stay there if I can’t live up to my potential. So while I would love a huge store with really high ceilings and a nice visible entryway, I dont know if that’s feasible in D.C. So I’m going to try something different.”
Update, 2:15 p.m: Here’s what Harkavy posted to his email list this afternoon:
This isn’t easy, so I’ll just come out and say it.
After nearly six years, Red Onion Records & Books will be closing our brick & mortar store. We will be shutting our doors at the end of the Summer. Some of you may have heard rumours, some of you already know and for some, this may come as a shock. This is something I have been thinking about for a while, and the time has come.
Firstly, I want to thank all of you, this has been quite an interesting experience. I’ve met so many great folks and made some awesome friends while working here. Hopefully you have found some great records, books, and/or CDs while digging around the shop.
Secondly, this is not the end of Red Onion… We will continue as a fully functioning record store, just without the store part (for now). I’ll still go out looking for records and stocking new releases, the challenge will be finding new ways to get them to you.
We’ll keep doing our emails (on a weekly basis) and work on some sort of mail order/delivery service. I’ll certainly miss the human interaction aspect of the shop, so in the near future you’ll see us setting up somewhere around town. Some ideas we’re working on are; flea markets, pop-up shops, and record swaps.
Who knows, someday you might see us roll up in the Red Onion Record Truck! Whatever the future holds, we hope you will stick with us and see how things turn out. Thanks again for everything.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery