Cool Kids Vinyl Strengthens D.C. Record Culture

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( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Matt Talley Opens New Record Shop with Community-Building in Mind

ENSPIRE Contributor: Adam Cetorelli

On Oct. 1st, Matt Talley opened up his new record shop Cool Kids Vinyl on the second floor of Washington D.C. restaurant and community marketplace Maketto. Cool Kids Vinyl offers records, books, magazines, decor, comics, and more, embracing the tactility of a bygone era in a world consumed by digital media and streaming services.

Matt Talley started bringing records to consumers in 2016 with his popup event series Diggin’ Thru the Crates. From LA and New York to Atlanta and D.C., Diggin’ Thru the Crates gave music lovers the chance to partake in the nostalgic practice of crate digging, wherein consumers rifle through crates of records and pass off the most enticing albums to a DJ, who then plays them for the crowd. Crate digging is a necessarily communal way to enjoy music, offering a much-needed respite from the increasingly private and intangible listening relationship encouraged by online streaming services and providing an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of Hip-Hop.

With the success of his Diggin’ Thru the Crates events, Matt Talley sought to create a permanent space where this more intimate relationship with music could flourish—and so Cool Kids Vinyl was born. Read the interview below with Talley on the importance of the vinyl form and record culture, opening up shop in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and more.

How does the experience of listening to music on vinyl differ from online streaming?

Vinyl gives listeners a piece of memorabilia that online streaming doesn’t. The listening experience is unmatched it transforms you back in time and provides more of a listening experience than online streaming. While online streaming is easier, the sound quality depends on your listening device, but vinyl remains consistent. Because vinyl is more tangible than streaming music, vinyl also allows listeners to physically feel the music and connect with it on a more intimate level.

Does Cool Kids Vinyl plan to have events in the space, or will it primarily be a record shop? Will Diggin Thru the Crates continue as a traveling event now that Cool Kids Vinyl has opened? 

Although we are hoping to have a big grand opening when COVID restrictions clear, Cool Kids Vinyl will primarily be a record shop providing a safe space for music lovers and an atmosphere where the past meets the present and nostalgia fills the room. Nestled on the second floor of Maketto, Cool Kids Vinyl is located next to a lounge area and café where coffee and cocktails can be ordered. 

Diggin Thru the Crates is on hold for now, but we do hope to continue it when COVID restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, Cool Kids Vinyl provides the same music experience, but in a more relaxed and COVID-19 safe environment.

How do you source the vintage records, magazines, and books?

Many of the vintage records, magazines, and books sold at Cool Kids Vinyl were originally part of a team member’s own collection. Many of them have been collecting vinyl records and comics their whole life. They also source from well-known artists like Kendrick Lamar, who do offer vinyl records today. Our collection mixes the old with the new to bring the feeling of nostalgia to life.

How do the books, magazines, and comics that Cool Kids Vinyl carries fit into your project of bringing the vinyl listening experience to more people? How do you decide what will join the collection being sold at the shop?

The vinyl listening experience isn’t complete without nostalgic items that take the listeners back to when vinyl was more mainstream, like the books, magazines, and comics that are offered at Cool Kids Vinyl. We consider what our clientele would enjoy when deciding what will join our collection. When we created Cool Kids Vinyl, our hope was to create a nostalgic space, so when deciding our collections, we choose items that will help bring that feeling to life. Many of the items sold were items we as a team had collected in the past. 

What was it like opening a storefront in the middle of a pandemic?

Honestly, we are just completely grateful that the opportunity was made available to us during these times. Before the pandemic hit, we were planning to rent out a space in Southwest. When those plans fell through, my boss at Maketto, where I worked as a daytime manager, told me he admired the vinyl experience that we brought to D.C. and thought that Maketto would be a great home for it. With the connection that I already had with Maketto, I couldn’t agree more and am thankful that he opened that window of opportunity for us.

The pandemic put a damper on what we could and couldn’t do to promote the space and how many people can view it at a time, but it didn’t stop us from creating the space we wanted to create. On Oct. 1st, we had a soft opening of Cool Kids Vinyl, but in the future will be having a bigger grand opening event.

What challenges do you see in terms of building a community around vinyl-listening during a time of social distancing, restricted building occupancies, and an encouraging stay-at-home mentality? What steps is Cool Kids Vinyl taking to promote community in the face of these challenges, and how are you balancing community-building with safe practices?

One of the challenges that we face in terms of the vinyl community is trying to get people to value a physical piece of music. Almost any song/album can be streamed online these days, so one of our biggest challenges would be the fact that we are going up against a generation who has everything that they need at their fingertips. 

We are certainly practicing social distancing here at Cool Kids Vinyl, and we are focusing on making the experience as comfortable as possible for our visitors. We are certainly an open space for all to enjoy and be safe.

How has the customer reception been so far?

The customer reception at the store has been great. It’s cool being able to introduce Cool Kids Vinyl to regulars at Maketto because they seem to want to engage with the space, and they love seeing something new in the city. I also get people who visit because they follow me on Instagram and would love to get their hands on some of the artifacts I have available to purchase. It’s been a great experience so far, and I can’t wait to get more people in the store.

What is Cool Kids Vinyl doing that other record stores in D.C. are not? In other words, why does D.C. need Cool Kids Vinyl?

D.C. needs a space like Cool Kids Vinyl to give all guests the opportunity to not only take in the history of vinyl records but to experience the pop-culture side of it. Cool Kids Vinyl has a focus on Hip-Hop, and we are trying to preserve its essence in the city by allowing people to come in, chat, ask questions, and learn from one another in their community. We have that time capsule almost that puts you in that 70s, 80s, 90s realm, where the music can just be appreciated a bit more.

Describe your partnership with Maketto. How do the businesses interact within the space?

I am currently the day time manager here at Maketto, and because COVID-19 set me back in terms of finding a space for the shop, my boss (chef Erik Bruner-Yang) gave me space upstairs and allowed me to transform it into my vision. When guests enter Maketto, they can order food and coffee as normal, but now have the opportunity to sit and enjoy delicious food all while taking themselves back to the 80s and 90s pop culture at Cool Kids Vinyl’s lounge. TVs play old VHS tape classics, and the shop also has extensive Black literature that includes Complex magazines from the early 2000s and Ebony magazines from the 70s.

What are the future goals for Cool Kids Vinyl?

Cool Kids Vinyl would love to restart our Diggin Thru The Crates tour but with COVID-19 still around we may have to hold off until 2021. In the meantime, we are working on Cool Kids Vinyl merch that will be available to purchase online and in-store. I also have plans for a grand opening event, and I imagine the shop being a host to events like an after-hours version of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk, live podcast events, and more.

Cool Kids Vinyl is open from 11:30 a.m. through 10 p.m. on the second floor of Maketto, at 1351 H St. NE D.C. The shop also sells online at coolkidsvinyl.com

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