Criminal Records has been a fixture in the Little Five Points area and an active part of the Atlanta music scene since it first opened its doors in 1991. Today, the store continues to support independent music and media stores through an alliance founded by Criminal’s owner, Eric Levin. We asked Eric to give us some insight about the mission and future for his store and other ventures.
FA: Eric, you have been around Little Five for a while. Can you give us a brief history of Criminal Records?
LEVIN: Criminal Records arrived in Atlanta mid-August 1991. I’d grown up working in an indie record store in Daytona Beach, where I opened the first iteration. I fell in love with Atlanta and Little Five Points on my first visit to the city and moved up two weekends later. I lived in the back, turned 21, made a bunch of mistakes, doubled down on those mistakes, moved the store a few more times, purchased Aurora Coffee, started AIMS (the Alliance of Independent Media Stores), and founded Record Store Day with a few record store friends. I decided at one point to close Criminal Records to pursue new ventures, but was forbidden to close by the ATL community, and have most recently closed out the 10th anniversary celebration of AIMS in our city.
LEVIN: Business at Criminal Records is very close to good. For many stores our size, making it to the next day with all the bills paid is a victory. We’re good until the end of the next day, for the most part, but I’m happy with that. The same can be said for Aurora Coffee; we are able to employ, insure and mature. We sell some pretty essential non-essentials – music, stories, art, coffee – and we help others achieve their goals.
The internet helps and harms, but given a level playing field, shopping local and independent is always a solid move. This isn’t going to ring true for every consumer and every item they want to consume, but I believe it’s important to shop local some or most of the time; whereas online entities like Amazon expect stores like mine (and Best Buy to some extent) to showroom their wares. They have apps to compare prices and discover findings, and that’s pretty insidious. At least now they have to collect sales tax from Georgia sales, and stores like mine are no longer penalized on the outset.
Amazon is pretty creepy, but the other stuff is even worse. I’m pretty good with selling affordable luxuries, because even if they become antiques there will still be a space for merchants.
I like records, CD’s, comics, books, and toys; I like knowing what coffee drink to start making someone when they walk in the door; and I love turning folks on to music, on record or live. That future looks very bright.
FA: How was AIMS conceived? What was your motivation for getting that off the ground?
LEVIN: CIMS (Coalition of Independent Music Stores) and MMN (Music Monitor Network) started up during the earliest years of Criminal Records, and I was always a curious bystander, wondering what those other stores were up to. My store was a little immature and had a well-earned reputation of being uncooperative; basically, we weren’t invited to join the other cliques. I recognized a fair number of other independent record store cast-offs and corralled us into an LLC agreement. The stores that I chose are some of the most iconic in their regions, and our success within the music industry was instantaneous as we served a great need at a fair price.
FA: How has AIMS fared over time, and what is its future?
LEVIN: AIMS has fared well as the need for our services has only increased as the music industry has constricted. Most labels have scaled back resources and the basic needs of sales and marketing are no longer being met for the artists that have entrusted their work to the shrunken music industry. AIMS connects those dots. As well, based on our governing and on-going management of Record Store Day, we’ve got a life-long global event to monitor.
Criminal Records and Aurora Coffee, Owner
Alliance of Independent Media Stores, Founder & President
Record Store Day, Co-Founder
a: 1154 — A Euclid Ave NE , Atlanta GA 30307