Daddy, What’s a Record Store? The Death of Criminal Records

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Gosh, is Amoeba next?

The latest indie retailer ready to close is Criminal Records, a veritable institution in Atlanta – and the broader indie community. Criminal is slated to shut its doors on or around November 1st, thanks to a cocktail of sluggish sales, economic sogginess, over-expansion, and a continued shift towards digital formats.  “We’ve been underwater ever since the economy became distressed,” founder and owner Eric Levin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve been on a rescue mission for three years.  I’m done paying for it by myself.”

Anything could theoretically happen over the next two months, and Levin needs an infusion of approximately $150,000.  But Levin has already tried to get a loan, he’s put out the tin cup with no takers.  That leaves his credit card as the only bailout option, and you know how that goes.  Levin said he decided long ago to give himself until August, and see where things stood.

But this is more than just another record store going kaput.  Levin has been a major figure in the creation of Record Store Day, a campaign designed to revive the space and reframe perceptions of a sinking sector.  But maybe reality wins: the shift towards digital is becoming more aggressive, newer (and younger) buyers are less emotionally attached to record stores, and bright spots like vinyl are only offering limited assistance.

Levin has also been candid in local reports, partly blaming himself for over-expanding into a newer, larger space and diving into expensive in-store performances.  But those are things that aggressive entrepreneurs do, despite the risks.  “It’s what every small business is supposed to do, get bigger and badder and better,” Levin told local 11 Alive News. “And we did.”

All of which introduces more difficult questions. For example, how does Record Store Day react, reshape, and continue to make the case for key exclusives?  And, is there even room for a niche here?