The record store, both the literal institution and the people who comprise it, still has a monopoly on one major selling point: taste. “Just because Pandora recommends something doesn’t mean it’s cool,” said Peoples. “To know what’s cool and what people are excited about, you’ve got to go to a record store.”
It’s a trade-off. The upside, among other things, is that somebody from a town without a record store can now discover Blossom Dearie on YouTube. The downside is that, sooner or later, perhaps we will all live in towns without record stores.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Manning says of the closing. “But still, you’re never prepared. . . . You just get that sort of dead feeling in your stomach.”
Manning, for his part, is a fan of the Internet. But it’s not quite . . . the same. “People like the physicality of being in a store,” he says. “It’s a sense of permanence, of seeing a business that’s always been there, that’ll always be there.”
Chris Artiga-Oliver, a customer in the shop, agrees. Vehemently. When you close Melody, he says, “You kill culture. It’s literally the death of something in America that people won’t miss until it’s gone. It sickens me. Just one more layer of human contact gone.”
“The only reason these guys are out of business,” he declares, “is the corporate greed of Amazon.”
Amazon. Funny you mention Amazon. Because what’s especially strange about the vibe in Melody now is how sorry everyone is — sorry in both senses of the word.
They are sorry to see the store go, to watch a cultural institution, a phantom tollbooth to an almost-bygone era, shutter its doors.
But they are also sorry because they could have saved it, and they didn’t. Sorry because clearly some people, maybe even the Amazon-haters, are buying more music online and less music at Melody, or Melody wouldn’t have to close at all. These is a sadness mingled with guilt in the air. They are sorry to see it die; they were complicit in the killing.
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Jack and Suzy met while working at Serenade Record Shop in the District, owned by Suzy’s father. The Turkish immigrants loved music and each other; they were married in 1976 and opened Melody Records on E Street the following year, when Suzy was 18. “It’s been a business and a marriage together,” Jack says.
And not just for the Menases: Manning met his future wife at the shop, 26 years ago, when she came into the store with her cassette player (a dated appliance even then) to buy a tape by Paco de Lucia, the flamenco guitarist. She still has the cassette.
Melody moved to the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street in 1978, then came up the street to its current location, which the Menases now own, in 1989.
The Menases don’t have a definite closing date yet, though they’re anticipating it’ll be sometime in February.
Once they’re done closing up shop, the Menases will take their annual vacation. After that, well, they haven’t really gotten that far yet. Jack, who is 60, doesn’t know what’s next for him. “I’ve never not worked at a record shop.” Suzy is 53, with an identical employment history.
Suzy says she and Jack have “no hard feelings. Our customers are like family. They know about our kids. They drop in just to say hello.”
“It was hard to write that goodbye letter. It was especially hard to hang up that ‘store closing’ sign in the window. There were a lot of tears.
“It was our life,” she says. “Simply put, the store was our life. It was our heart and soul, it really was.”
Check out a playlist of songs that regulars often heard in Melody Records on The Style Blog.