Arts Desk

New Record Store, Hill & Dale, Coming to Georgetown

This is not a photo of Hill & Dale.

This is not a photo of D.C.'s newest record store.

While most rock & roll vacated the truffle-scented streets of Georgetown long ago, at least one man is keeping the faith: Rob Norton, the proprietor behind the neighborhood's boldest business proposition of late, Hill & Dale. It's a record store.

Well, it's actually a little more than a record store. Hill & Dale—no relation to the upscale Lower East Side gastropub nor Hillandale, Md.—will specialize in new vinyl records, photography, and posters. The shop, currently under construction, is located in the 1,200 square foot space formerly occupied by Parish Gallery. Norton, a 44-year-old who lives near Politics & Prose, plans to host a grand opening during the first week of February.

A veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, Norton says he's thought about opening a place like Hill & Dale for a long time. He says it's a "pretty big career change, but it's sort of a culmination of a lifelong dream of opening up a store that's focused on music."

I won't harp on the obvious risks associated with opening a record store in this economy/yuppifying city/cultural moment—I have nothing new to add there—but still, D.C.'s most expensive zip code seems like a less than obvious choice for such a wistful endeavor. Yet Norton has his reasons for choosing the neighborhood. "I hadn't been thinking about Georgetown, honestly," he says. He had been looking for a space in the U Street area, not far from the city's other numerous record stores, and he "wasn't coming up with anything that was really ideal." He says the old Parish space came at a "good price," and its location near M Street NW seemed optimal.

Referring to other D.C. shops including Joint Custody, Som, and Crooked Beat, Norton says those shops are great for used vinyl, but he just wants to focus on new records for now, in a variety of genres. "I like so much music... there's no single focus," he says of his inventory. "There's a lot of rock and indie and experimental music and a lot of blues and jazz." Besides the records, he plans to sell original photography by Peter Simon and silkscreened posters.

Norton has made some significant changes to the space, which had been the home of Parish Gallery for 22 years until owner Norman Parish died last summer. He's rethought the floors and taken out a drop ceiling to create a more open feel. "The most important thing is the vinyl," he says, but he's also interested in creating an inviting environment. "The idea is to make it a nice place to hang out."

Hill & Dale is expected to open in early February at 1054 31st St. NW, Suite 010.

Photo by Flickr user chrishimself used under a Creative Commons license.

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  • johnson lee

    Good luck!!!

  • Jon

    This is the LEAST risky time to open up a record store in many years...

    "Meanwhile, one format quietly posted huge gains: vinyl records. LP sales were up an amazing 32 percent from 2012, continuing an improbable growth trend that began in the early 1990s and took off around 2007. In fact, as The Oregonian's David Greenwald points out, this was the sixth straight year in which vinyl long-players have recorded their highest sales mark since the advent of Soundscan in 1991."

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  • Mike

    I am sure he was also talking about Red Onion and Smash, when referring to the other record stores in the area.

  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Jon, of course. But talk to local record store owners and they will tell you that it's still a tough world to be selling records in.

    @Mike, well, technically, no. Those are the only stores he mentioned in our convo. No snub intended on my part, though.

  • Jon

    @Ally - we talk to them daily - in DC and nationally (from the heart of DC.) The climate is far better than inferred and it's not just wishful thinking.

  • Chris

    If you're up in Frederick, check out Vinyl Acres, and stick around to chat with owners Martha Hull (singer for Slickee Boys, DCeats) and her husband Bob Berberich (drummer for Grin, Rosslyn Mountain Boys).

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  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Jon, hey, I read your blog, and I've read the same stats. (For disclosure purposes, and also because I guess it's relevant to the convo, I should mention my SO co-owns two record stores in the D.C. area.) Wouldn't argue with the upward trajectory of vinyl sales; they're a huge part of what's keeping brick-and-mortar record stores nationwide afloat (that and supplementary online sales). That being said, the record biz is kind of like my own struggling industry, in the sense that we've made some promising short-term gains (new private investment in startups/new outlets, new pathways to profit/sustainability), but if we look at the long term, both industries are very far away from their golden years.

    I'm not gonna sit here and cynically say this and other record stores are doomed---plenty are making money, many of them in D.C. (Joint Custody recently expanded fer God's sake), and there very well could be a piece of the pie left for Hill & Dale. I'll just wait and watch... and stop by the new store, too.

  • Jon

    @Ally - Now, that's the positive light I didn't see in the piece above--that there is more than a mere ray of hope here.

    Our free app (plug!) houses the planet's largest data base of existing record stores, and we're (happily) adding to the thing many times during the week as new shops open. There's a groundswell I'm delighted to see.

    Hope to see you at the DC Record Fair too!