Thanks for the melodies: D.C. Melody Record shop closes (Video)

By the time you read this the Melody Record Shop, the last of the independent music stores in downtown Washington D.C. could be gone

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2012 — By the time you read this it may be gone. Melody Record Shop, the last of the independent music stores in downtown D.C., is locking its doors.

The chain music stores started squeezing out the independents a long time ago. Then the big guys started “dominoing.” Olssons, Borders, and select Barnes & Noble stores, such as the one on M St. in the heart of Georgetown, have fallen. 

Perhaps the chief surprise is not that Melody Records is closing, but that it managed to stay in business so long, despite the vicissitudes of the business and the innovations of the internet. It carried on, even if, like “The One-Note Samba,” it was “slightly out of tune.” If out of tune with the times, however, it remained completely on key with music lovers in and around the capital city.

The store owned by Jack and Suzi Menase enjoyed a record run. For 34 years Melody Record Shop graced the Dupont Circle area. Beginning in 1979, during its first ten years, it sat on the southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Q Street. Later, in 1989, Melody moved to its well-known address at 1623 Connecticut Avenue.  

In addition to knowing how to keep customers, the Menases knew how to retain valued personnel as well. Take for example Charlie Manning. Charlie has worked as manager and buyer at the shop for 32 of its 34 years. Temps or part-time clerks fell easily into the store’s spirit of customer service. One could request merchandise not found in the store, receive a timely phone call when it arrived, and there would be no $6.00 charge “for shipping and handling.” There were also those discount bins with quality CDs as low as $9.99. Best of all, browsing was encouraged. Often, if you arrived with a specific item in mind, you usually left with a couple of others, either in addition to or instead of your original quest.

I once asked a clerk if she had a CD of pianist Byron Janis playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. She recalled seeing a copy in the past couple of days being put into one of the mark-down boxes. Crawling on hands-and-knees, she reached under a cabinet and rifled through a couple of boxes until she popped up, CD in hand. Price sticker, $9.99, and again, no S&H.

Last days at the Melody Record Shop

The family-owned Melody shop was the last bastion for music lovers to enjoy a hands-on experience with the music and were able to request that a specific CD be played at the front desk to be certain it was the one they had in mind. The store offered every genre of music and the latest classical recordings. Consequently, countless out-of-towners considered Melody Records a stop on their Capital City visit.

 Personally, the record store at 1623 Connecticut Avenue was like “old home week” to me. It represented, in fact, a nice slice of my youth. You see, my very first D.C. job when I was all of 20 years old was at a record store at that location. And if you read my January 5 column about the recent “Roast/Toast” surprise 75th birthday bash, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

After my third year of college, I had decided to allow myself a respite. I searched the Want Ads and, because I knew and loved music, I answered an ad for a clerk at a downtown D.C. record store. The address was 1623 Connecticut Avenue. The year was 1958.

The Disc Shop was owned and operated by the late “Dan” Danziger. No Compact Discs in those days, the “discs” of the store’s name were LPs, Long Play (LP) 12” record albums. This particular independent store sold no 45 rpm discs and did not deal in “pop music.” It specialized in LPs in just four categories: Classical, International, Broadway Shows, and Motion Picture soundtracks. Most folks will remember the Disc Shop’s longtime location in the Universal Building at the corner of Connecticut and Florida. Before it moved there, in 1960, however, it was at the location which would subsequently house the Melody Records Shop.

Last week, many customers mourned the loss of Melody records. I was one of them.  Pianist Dennis Kasper, who played for 25 years at the Four Seasons in Foggy Bottom, has been a customer of Melody for more than a quarter of a century. Dennis said he’d have to go through a grief process. So, too, will Stephen R. Brown. This week, as he celebrated the launching of his photography book about the Chesapeake, he nevertheless expressed grief at the passing of the Melody Records store.

Although Mr. Menase, owner of Melody, had announced the planned closing on his website on January 3, I can imagine the number of people who’ll arrive at the store, step back, read the “out of business” signs, and have a real jaw-dropping experience.

This iconic store’s departure represents a loss to thousands of customers and to the city of Washington itself, but it will not be forgotten. And that brings to mind the words of an Irving Berlin composition: “The song is ended, but the Melody lingers on.”

 Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in many publications and have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance, who calls himself “a lover of all things Washington,” has shared his experience and knowledge of  D.C. at the Washington Historical Society and on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on PBS.






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Vance Garnett

Vance Garnett is an eclectic observer of life, politics and sports. 

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