By Andrew Dunbar
Bill Daly, unsurprisingly, is a lifelong lover of music. Daly’s record collection and knowledge of bands were turning heads long before he opened Crooked Beat Records, which sells old and new vinyl in Alexandria.
“One night I got a call from a friend of mine who used to date one of my housemates. When he’d come over to see her, he’d look at my album collection and was always mystified. He wanted me to come work with him at a record store near North Carolina State and next thing I know I was there seven years,” Daly said.
Daly decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship with his own store. In 1997, the first Crooked Beat Records opened its doors in Raleigh. The Raleigh location became difficult to keep afloat due to dwindling foot traffic in the early 2000s. Though Daly and his partner had fewer in-store customers than desired, records were still being shipped out every day. Most of these records were going to the Washington, D.C. area. A move to a new DMV location started to make sense.
Upon finding a seemingly good spot in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, Daly moved the store to 18th street in 2004. Although park- ing was an issue, the store went on to do very well – until the rats came. Exacerbated by the presence of a meat market upstairs, the rat infestation became so intense that Daly began developing respiratory problems from breathing in rat antigens in the air. He knew it was time for another move.
Their next – and current – location at 800 N. Fairfax St. in North Old Town has something that the Adams Morgan location didn’t: minimal mice and ample parking. Many loyal customers of Crooked Beat drive hours and travel many miles to find the store that sells vinyl records.
“I don’t watch TV anymore,” a frequent customer once told Daly. “I come home from work. I turn on the turntable. I listen to records sometimes for six hours a night. I just sit in the chair and hold the record. I study it and listen. It’s so relaxing.”
Most music lovers would agree that a physical record offers something that streaming platforms cannot. The tangible nature of the vinyl medium elevates the music as an art form. Every square jacket is a little work of art meant to represent the music. The record often comes with special posters, cards and song information from the artist. The tangible experience of holding a record is more intimate than pressing a button on a screen.
When you walk into Crooked Beat, you are greeted by the vibrant colors of all the records. Posters adorn the walls and shelves. It looks and feels like an art exhibit. It is. A permanent fixture is dedicated to local artists. The walls are a mix of famous artists and recent acts with a cult following.
“Fans will come in and see the posters and say ‘Okay, we know they’ll have Joy Division. We know they’ll have Sonic Youth,’” Daly said.
But they also have Bob Dylan and The Beatles. The ability to cater to mainstream listeners as well as dedicated fans looking for rare records is a key component to Crooked Beat’s success.
Many listeners were put off by CDs upon their arrival. In the late 80s, jazz legend Miles Davis said that he thought they sounded “tinny.” Davis did all he could to ensure his records would be sold on vinyl even after his death.
Many audiophiles would say that despite the optimization of audio quality by manufacturers, the sound of CDs just doesn’t hold the same warmth as a record. And some feel the small plastic packaging of CDs has less soul.
According to Daly, in the five years Crooked Beat spent in Raleigh, vinyl made up 33% of the store’s sales every year. After the store moved to D.C., sales of vinyl increased to about 40%. In 2007 vinyl outsold CDs for the first time. In 2008, vinyl sales would make up 99% of the store’s business.
This remarkable increase shows the loyalty of vinyl collectors. The sales numbers at Crooked Beat proved that records are not a fad, but a form of buying and listening to music that will never truly go away.
Not only does the store serve fans, it also helps support artists. D.C. bands Fugazi and El Quatro have found many new local listeners and a steady stream of record sales through Crooked Beat.
Despite its success in Old Town, Crooked Beat Records is about to move to its fourth location – though not by choice. The building on North Fairfax Street is scheduled to be torn down sometime later this year. Every business housed in that building is being forced to relocate and Crooked Beat is no exception.
Daly admitted he would keep the store at its current location if given the choice, as some of the store’s best years have been since he moved to Old Town, but he’s also excited about his store’s new home at 2417 Mt. Ver- non Ave. in Del Ray. Daly said the limited foot traffic in North Old Town has always been a drawback, whereas that situation should be remedied by relocating to Mt. Vernon Avenue.
On April 22, record stores around the globe will welcome fans for Record Store Day. Fans are expected to flock to brick and mortar buildings for exclusive releases like El Quatro’s new album “Displacement” in a limited vinyl form.
As a final goodbye, Daly and his team have chosen to spend Record Store Day at their current space.
Daly continues to provide an invaluable service in an ever-increasing digital age. For the past 30 years, major labels have been intent on minimizing vinyl releases, first touting CDs as superior, then promoting the convenience of iPods and other streaming devices.
But a significant swath of music lovers have never left the vinyl medium. The large, and growing, community of vinyl collectors depend on owners like Daly and stores like Crooked Beat to keep records alive.