Buzz Worthy

Red Onion Records: Small Shop, Many Layers

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When you walk into Red Onion Records & Books, a new shop at 18th and T streets NW, the first thing you notice is its size. Red Onion is small. Very small. And yet it doesn't come off as cramped, claustrophobic or cluttered. The book and music shop has an accessible, comfortable feel -- an atmosphere that's all part of the plan, says owner Josh Harkavy, 30, a Long Island, N.Y., transplant by way of Richmond.

"I've been to plenty of record stores where it is so crowded and dingy that I barely want to look for records myself," he says. "And I am an avid record collector."

His own extensive collection formed the initial stock when the store opened in December. The vinyl stacks are filled with classics by David Bowie and the Talking Heads, as well as hard-to-find gems by the Fall and avant-garde chamber music by Karlheinz Stockhausen. (The bookshelves are just as eclectic.)

"For the past 10 years or so, I have been going to garage and estate sales. I had pretty much filled up my dad's house, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to open my store," Harkavy says. Red Onion's stock is about 90 percent used, though the shelves are beginning to see more factory-fresh fare.

Harkavy credits community relations adviser Alyssa Best, 26, for developing Red Onion's friendly appeal. Her brainchild: a lounge area in the front of the store with a selection of current magazines and comfortable seating where the retail-weary can rest their heels.

"It's living-room-esque," Harkavy explains. "It feels like you are looking through your friend's bookshelves."

-- Justin Rude

Red Onion Records & Books, 1901 18th St. NW, 202-986-2718,

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