Atlanta's Criminal Records commemorates its 20th anniversary this week, but there's not much cause for celebration. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, founder and owner Eric Levin plans to shutter the store unless new investors or potential fund-raising efforts emerge to help keep it afloat. Artists who have played in-store shows at the iconic spot include Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Gossip, Janelle Monáe, Def Jux's El-P and Mr. Lif, and Deerhunter, among many others; watch their performances below.
As co-founder of Record Store Day, an annual event that drew participation from more than 1,000 stores worldwide this past April in its fourth year, Levin acknowledges the symbolic importance of his decision. But he emphasizes that Criminal is hurting financially for very specific business-related reasons, not because of any failings specific to record stores in general. "We bit off more than we could chew and we got too big," Levin told SPIN.
As the Journal-Constitution story points out, Levin's store in Atlanta's Little Five Points neighborhood sells new and used CDs, vinyl records, comic books, and graphic novels, along with DVDs, magazines, art, candy, and T-shirts. Criminal moved from a 2,500-square-foot location to a 6,000-square-foot store in 2008 -- just in time for the Wall Street meltdown. The relocation reportedly tripled the store's overhead. Weather didn't help; an ice storm this January reportedly cost the store $14,000. Hosting free live music carries its own costs. And Levin's expenses also include offering his employees health insurance.
Criminal isn't going down without a fight. "OK, y'all, please hold off on the RIPs and the farewells," Criminal said via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. "We're not dead and gone yet. We are going to try and #SaveCriminalRecords." Levin mentions that several artists have gotten in touch, offering to help; Manchester Orchestra hopes to release one of their in-store performances as a way to generate revenue for the troubled store. A Facebook page, Save Criminal Records Atlanta, already has more than 2,000 "likes."
In the meantime, Levin has set Nov. 1 for himself as a deadline to "pay the man or leave." Levin told SPIN that while that is the day his first debt payment is due -- "and it's a large one" -- he's looking at ways of making money to keep the store open past that deadline. A liquidation sale is one possibility.
Levin first opened Criminal in what is now a coffee shop, reaping a windfall selling comic books after a nearby comics shop shut its doors. The Journal-Constitution reports that more than 250 subscribers now come to Criminal each week to pick up comics they order through the store. Levin made his first move to a larger space in 2004; he saw his next relocation, in 2008, as only logical. "We were doing everything we were supposed to do -- grow," he told the Atlanta newspaper.
In addition to co-founding Record Store Day, Levin also serves as president of the Alliance of Independent Media Stores. He reportedly opened his first record store, Secret Service, in Florida when he was only 19. After an obscure law led to his arrest by the actual Secret Service, a local television news reporter joked, "What's he going to call it next? 'Criminal Records?'" The name stuck, but now Levin once again finds himself at the mercy of forces that may be beyond his control.
WATCH: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Hyperballad" (Björk cover; live in 2006 at Criminal Records)
WATCH: The Gossip: "Yr Mangled Heart" (live in 2006 at Criminal Records)
WATCH: Janelle Monáe: "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" (live in 2007 at Criminal Records)
WATCH: Mr. Lif & El-P: "Freestyle" (with RJD2 on turntables; live in 2002 at Criminal Records)
WATCH: Deerhunter: "Hazel Street" (live in 2007 at Criminal Records)