Record stores are made for listening: the crinkle of plastic sleeves as customers leaf through cases of records, the oohs and aahs induced by a rare find, the tunes beaming from loudspeakers.
But when owner Sam Lock arrived at the Record Exchange in Frederick, Maryland one night late last month, the first feeling that erupted was the smell: smoke billowing from the three-story building which had housed the North Market Street store since 2010.
“When I came down (Interstate) 270 … I could feel it, like, so far away,” Lock said of the fire, which he was told blazed from about 9:30 p.m. to about 4:30 a.m. “And I could see the smoke, and I was like… it’s not just a little fire on the ground.
The front door was already broken down and firefighters were pouring torrents of water to put out the fire on the top floor. Lock saw it all come out of the door on the ground floor of the Record Exchange, taking a few records with it. In just one night, the store “lost pretty much everything,” he said. There was about 20% of his stock left, most of it being CDs.
But record store enthusiasts in Frederick and across the country quickly banded together to help the store rebuild.
Lock, 55, had come to the area in 1997 to open five outposts of the once-powerful Record Exchange franchise, including locations in Washington, D.C., the Adams Morgan neighborhood and Silver Spring, Maryland. . But the 2008 financial crisis sank three of them, and in 2019 Lock sold the Silver Spring branch, leaving Frederick its one and only.
On August 25, a day after the fire, he launched a GoFundMe to offset moving costs for a new location and what was left of his inventory. The goal was $30,000, and just a week later music fans had helped Lock reach it. “I’ve never met you or been to your store, but cities need their record stores as cultural hubs,” read the post from a Denver donor. “Record swapping is an integral part of our community. Frederick needs you! read a local.
The support reminded Lock why he stayed so long.
“I’ve had kids come in and give $20, and they said they started shopping here with their dad when they were 7,” Lock said. “People are like, ‘I bought my first turntable and my first record from you guys, and you guys really put me into it.’ … It really comes back to us (with) the GoFundMe. I cry every time I watch it.”
Another boost followed in what was left of the physical store. On Wednesday afternoon, after a few days of rescue efforts by Lock and his pals, the Record Exchange released vinyl again. Kind of.
It was a nominal price sale, with all proceeds going to Lock’s sole employee, Zach Willems. Records, CDs, cassettes, DVDs, posters and toys in cardboard boxes were sold as they were on the sidewalk, in front of the now gaping front door and the mess inside.
Much of the ceiling was exposed, the rest draped along the right side of the store. Bursts of light shone through holes in the upper floor of the apartment. Whole cases of CDs floated in the water in the store’s storage area. Mold had already started to dot the discs and light fixtures along the wall.
Up front, Willems dutifully answered questions from passers-by about what had happened. Willems, 29, had worked at the Record Exchange for over a year but had been a regular customer for a decade. He was on vacation when the fire broke out. Wednesday was the first time he had seen the store in its current form.
“I had seen the pictures,” Willems said. “I kind of knew what I was walking into. But it was still shocking. I finished closing the night (August 19th), walked through this place looking around, “Man, what a cool place to work,” and I’m back now, man…”
Luckily for Lock and Willems, customers were happy to extend their support and dig into what was left.
Christine Wisniewski, who had a stack of metal CDs in the crook of her arm, said she was ‘devastated’ when she heard about the fire, which Lock said was still under investigation. investigation.
“I used to come downtown often, and it was always one of my go-to places,” said Wisniewski, 27, who was born and raised in Frederick.
“It’s peaceful for me,” she said. “These are people who love music and appreciate it as much as I do, and it was a really nice place to make people feel welcome, whatever your interest in the genre.”
And even in this makeshift sale, Willems and Lock were keen to keep the spirit of the store alive and dispense the wisdom of the record store to regulars who missed it.
For Joseph Romanic, 19, the store was essential to cultivating his passion for music. He became a regular for a year and brought his friend Reyna Rabeau to the sidewalk sale. Romanic and Willems traded recommendations of doom metal, indie and progressive rock, while Rabeau grabbed a few rap CDs, including Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.”
“The guys here have always been so nice. It doesn’t matter who worked,” said Rabeau, also 19. “They’ll play something, and you can just say, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cool. I didn’t know I liked that kind of music. It’s something different every time and I love it.
Outside customers, like online donors in days past, also wanted to know what was coming next. Would Lock have a new window? Would he stay in Frederick?
Lock played coyly; he didn’t want to jinx it, but he had a lead. A day after the sale, in fact, he signed a lease, with plans to reopen by December.
The new Record Exchange location will also be on North Market Street, a few blocks away.