Independent record store Criminal Records and its owner, Record Store Day founder Eric Levin, have been fixtures on the Atlanta, GA, scene for the last 20 years. Now though, Levin’s shining brick-and-mortar beacon of independent music is faced with a life-threatening crisis: If it can’t come up with $150,000 dollars by November 1, the store will have to close. “I dug a seriously deep hole to stay alive,” Levin tells CMJ. “I took every check that every bank sent my way, maxed every credit card out, I missed a sales tax payment or two, a rent check here or there, it just added up. I did everything but rob a bank.”
Help, however, is on the way in the form of an army of artists offering their support. Manchester Orchestra, Butch Walker and Atari Teenage Riot have all offered to play shows to help save CR. Dave Williams from Adult Swim has also pledged his support (having the Aqua Teen Hunger Force backing you up has got to boost morale). According to Levin, others who want to help include the Coathangers and Jermaine Dupri, and he also says Orange Amplifiers might make its Christmas party a CR fundraiser, auctioning off some amps and possibly getting Mastodon to play.
CR was doing all right up until it moved into a space three-times its previous size three years ago and Levin acquired a local coffee company. It was then that “the bottom fell out of everything,” Levin says. Costs outpaced profits, and when the recession hit the picture turned from bad to worse for business owners like Levin. “I just wish I’d known before we moved that the economy was supposed to collapse,” says Levin. It’s too soon to tell if this will be the death of CR, but a liquidation sale is definitely in the cards, and loyal CR fans will be served first at a private event before the stock is opened up to the public. There’s also an untapped vein within CR, says Levin, of “dozens and dozens” of in-store recordings made over the years that could generate some revenue.
Levin not only runs CR but also works for the Alliance Of Independent Media Stores. Earlier this year he advocated to congress for the fair sales tax initiative and artists rights. We’ll keep tabs on this story as the deadline nears. Here’s hoping CR meets its goals and is around for another 20 years.