Red Onion Records finds its groove on Gallatin Street
By Lauren Flynn Kelly
In late 2017, a mysterious “Coming soon …” sign and a few LPs appeared in the window of the long-empty commercial property at 4208 Gallatin Street. It only made sense that after craft beer, specialty coffee and vintage clothing, Hyattsville residents would be treated to a bona fide record store. But when?
Two years and a few setbacks later, Red Onion Records officially moved to Hyattsville. Owner Josh Harkavy opened the popular record store in Northwest Washington, D.C. — a consequence of collecting too many books and records at yard and estate sales on Long Island in his 20s — back in 2007. He’d imagined the Gallatin Street spot as a second location for Red Onion, but ultimately decided that the “inevitable conclusion” to his years in D.C. was to bring the store closer to home. Harkavy and his wife, Alyssa, have lived in Hyattsville for a decade.
The space itself has just the right throwback vibe to feel like a record store that’s always been here, or at least since the 1970s. Harkavy left the original wood paneling on the walls and enlisted local businesses to help with the design. Hyattsville’s Forty Third Place constructed waist-high shelving perfect for flipping through records and a divider wall that features the striped handiwork of local designer Betsy Martin and husband, Jeremy Glunt. Her green, black and white design wraps around the interior and all the way out to the storefront. Harkavy said it was partly inspired by a beloved green chair he owns and partly by an apartment he saw on the Netflix series “Mindhunter.” “I took a picture and Betsy had already seen [the episode], so it was really good serendipity.”
Harkavy said he doesn’t know how long the store had been empty, but it was filled with office furniture when he moved in, and he learned that it at one time housed Mike Franklin’s toy distribution company before the toy store/restaurant/brewery opened on Baltimore Avenue.
About 80% of the store is stocked with used albums by artists representing a variety of genres and decades. There are also a couple bins of new records and a shelf of books, CDs and DVDs. Although Harkavy said he’s always looking to acquire records even when he’s on vacation, he’s having to be a bit more selective these days, as storage space is limited, and things tend to sit on shelves longer than they did in the old store. That said, Harkavy called the move to Hyattsville “low risk,” with less overhead than his previous locations (Red Onion relocated once during its time in D.C.), shoppers frequenting local businesses nearby and loyal customers willing to make the trek to Hyattsville.
“It’s basically like starting over. Every day is a new experience, and I’m kind of gauging the needs of the community, but I feel like I’ve already met some really nice locals that are coming in every weekend,” he said. “People seem to like to have something to go to in the neighborhood that’s not [a place] to eat or drink but another space to hang out in.”
And Red Onion is, indeed, a great spot for hanging out. Light streams from a south-facing window onto a cozy reading spot, and there’s a small stage that’s perfect for an in-store performance or a DJ set, which Harkavy had for the grand opening party in December.
“Overall, I’m so happy with the response. We started strong, opening after Thanksgiving, getting that rush of Black Friday and Christmas shopping. I feel like that probably set the bar pretty high for my expectations.”
The store remains a work in progress, as Harkavy hopes to add a listening station, enhance the music selection with more CDs and cassette tapes, improve the signage and maybe even host a game night.
When asked what records he would be most interested in reselling if folks were doing some spring cleaning and wanted to bring them in, he recommends “the classics … the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis” — basically anything on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest albums of all time.
“I feel like no matter where you have a record store, everybody wants mostly the same things. Anything that was popular back in the day is pretty much still popular, but we get people looking for obscure things, which is always good, and people who like to sample stuff are always looking for things with cool drum breaks. But the standards that everybody wants to have in their collection — those are the things that are hardest to keep in stock. Good music never goes out of style!”
Red Onion Records is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., although hours are subject to change. Visit Red Onion Records on Facebook for updates on stock and hours.