With Atlanta’s favorite Little Five Points record store, Criminal Records, in jeopardy of closing its doors on November 1, local Atlanta musicians and residents have been banning together to raise the needed funds to help the record store with its large tax bill. In several interviews, Criminal Records store owner Eric Levin admitted to trying to grow his business by relocating to a larger space before the economy suffered and music lovers were even more fervently trading in their records and CDs for free music file sharing and cheaper electronic MP3s, which helped lead to his store’s current predicament. (Levin, who has worked in record stores since he was 13, is also the founder of the Association of Independent Media Stores (AIMS) and co-founder of Record Store Day.) You can’t blame him for wanting to grow his business or offer the music-loving public a wider variety of products and special, intimate in-store performances with local and national musicians. He even had the famed geeks from the movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World in for an in-store record and comic book (graphic novel) signing. Several lauded musicians got their start selling records and merchandise in his store. Former front man for Marvelous 3 and prolific music producer, Butch Walker, has done several in-stores for Criminal, as well as bands like the alternative radio friendly Civil Twilight. Those are just a few of the names and faces that have graced Criminal Records with in-store signings and free musical performances within the past year.
People have rallied and even created a Facebook page, “Save Criminal Records Atlanta,” to promote the good cause. The problem that many seem to be running into is that part of the reason Criminal’s business has suffered is that shoppers’ wallets are suffering right now too. With that being sadly noted, on Saturday, October 15, I declined other party offers and event invitations to head over to A Night of Sweet Relief, a Criminal Records and Sweet Relief (an organization that provides assistance to struggling musicians and ill, disabled, and/or elder career musicians in need) benefit at Variety Playhouse. Proceeds from the event were to be split evenly between Criminal Records and Sweet Relief. The benefit line-up included four local bands and one defunct band that reformed just for this occasion. The event was sponsored and organized by Orange Amplifiers along with Paste magazine and the Variety Playhouse, featuring these bands: The Back Pockets, Kelly Hogan and Friends, a special reunion of the original members of Magnapop, a solo Patterson Hood (from The Drive By Truckers), and Carnivores.
For everyone’s enthusiasm and desperation to save the record store, the attendance at the benefit was in and of itself criminal. Maybe because it was poorly marketed (was it?) or maybe because of people’s empty pockets or maybe because of all the other events and open haunted houses – I’m really not sure why, but the Variety only seemed half full that night. I don’t know how music lovers could beat supporting a good cause and the attractive, inexpensive band-to-ticket cost ratio. (Or maybe my hopes were too lofty and the benefit was financially successful in support of Criminal?) Or maybe I am just scared and saddened because I watched two electronic dance music record stores – Candy (record store) in Athens, Georgia, and then Satellite Records in Atlanta – close their doors within the past ten years. Criminal Records has a larger variety of musical style offerings so maybe that will give it the push it needs to squeak by and get that tax bill paid off. Out of the three, Criminal Records was the first record store I shopped at and it is also the last one standing.
As far as the bands in the benefit were concerned, each had a unique style. Sitting in the Variety listening to the five bands was like listening to a favorite mixed tape made with love, which touched on a wide variety of musical talents, styles, and sounds. Each band was passionate about saving Criminal Records and made an honest plea with the crowd to help out in any dollar amount possible. Orange Amplifiers held a raffle to support the cause and gave away $50 gift certificates, a stage mic, photos from Perry Julien, special merch given to Criminal Records by bands, and an Orange Amplifier Tiny Terror amp. There was also a small table out front selling “Save Criminal Records” t-shirts, stickers, and assorted band merchandise.
I wish Eric Levin and his Criminal Records family good luck in raising the much needed funds to keep their doors open. We can only hope that they receive the help and relief they need to recover and restructure for a vibrant future. Atlanta needs this beloved record store and venue to keep its doors open to enrich people’s lives with music and memories that are not sold for the price of admission. If you are in the area on Saturday for the Little Five Points Halloween Parade (and even if not on Saturday), please stop in and show your local record store some love and support by buying a crateful of records.
1154-A Euclid Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307
Email: [email protected]