First Look: Hill & Dale Record Store

Published On January 28, 2014 | By Stephanie Williams | Features

Photos By Matthew Brazier 

Tucked away at the end of a small plaza in the heart of Georgetown is Hill & Dale, a new record store that is set to open next month. As I walked into the 1,200 square foot space, the aroma of new and unopened records immediately hits me. It’s an audiophile’s paradise, with the front of the store shelled with floor-to-ceiling windows that instantly makes the space feel more open and inviting.

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Unlike many record stores, Hill & Dale has a clean and minimal look to it, with the walls only utilized out of necessity. The main record shelf at the front of the shop has every possible release imaginable-from the soulful sounds of the late Amy Winehouse to the rollicking bluegrass of Black Prairie. “I would never dismiss a band or artist because they play a certain genre of music”, says Hill & Dale’s owner Rob Norton about his own personal taste in music.

The 44-year-old D.C. resident says that opening a record store has always been a lifelong dream, but didn’t take action until a few years ago when he felt financially ready to take the plunge. Although Norton eventually decided to move into Hill & Dale’s current space (formerly occupied by Parish Gallery), he first looked into U Street as a potential location. “At first I looked into some places around 9:30 Club, but there wasn’t anything promising enough. It really took a long time to settle on a final place, and eventually Parish Gallery’s old space came up for sale with a decent price”.

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While Georgetown wasn’t Norton’s first choice, he also feels confident that his business will still flourish in the neighborhood. “There are a bunch of Georgetown and GW students in the area who will want to buy records, along with a few venues around the corner like Blues Alley and Gypsy Sally’s that I’d love to work with”, says Norton. It should be noted that during our interview, several curious people already approached the store’s door asking if it was open.

Norton doesn’t have a competitive streak when it comes to selling records alongside established stores like Som and Joint Custody. “I don’t see other stores in the area as competition at all. It’s a good thing that there are more stores in D.C. and I appreciate what Som Records and other places are doing”. Instead, Norton’s main focus is to have his customers not only find what they’re looking for, but to also discover music the old fashioned way.

“The reason why I haven’t opened the store yet is because I want the records sorted in a very particular way”, says Norton. “Instead of sorting them by genre, I want to sort everything by name. I feel like I missed out on some amazing bands growing up by always staying in a particular genre section”.

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On top of maintaining a record store, Norton also holds a day job outside of his musical endeavor. To maintain a reasonable equilibrium, he plans to open the store in the afternoons while also relying on additional help. Keeping a steady job and a store afloat has taken plenty of hard labor and time on Norton’s part, but vows that his personal life hasn’t been afflicted due to his new business.

“My wife was very supportive of this decision. She even helped me with setting up the store”, proclaims Norton. One example that he mentioned was his dilemma of hanging up concert posters and photographs, which he also sells in the store. “I didn’t want to drill extensively through the walls, so she gave me the great idea of putting them up with magnets. It worked out perfectly!”

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Hill & Dale is set to make its grand opening on February 7, with a special exhibit from esteemed photojournalist Peter Simon. After the big event, Norton plans to eventually host small concerts in his shop, with a goal of making Hill & Dale a true mecca for audiophiles who just need a place to hang out.

“This has been a lifelong dream of mine”, says Norton. “It’s been a long road to make this all happen, but in the end, it’s worth it”

Hill & Dale is located on 1054 31st St NW #010, Washington, DC 20007

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  • James

    Well done piece!

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  • Jefeto Green

    I will be a loyal customer if you read Chris Richards’ Record Store Day article from last year and promise to never ever say bad things about your customers – be they loyal every week customers or once a year for Record Store Day. Deal? See you soon. http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/record-store-day-brings-customers–and-headaches–for-independent-stores/2013/04/18/7c016ef0-a774-11e2-8302-3c7e0ea97057_story.html

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  • Mr. Pharmacist

    Seeing someone who is passionate about music, but more importantly passionate about creating a physical space and forum for discussion, sharing interests, etc., is definitely inspiring. That being said, this is a tough undertaking. As an avid music lover and vinyl (and CD) enthusiast, I wish this gentleman the best. I rarely purchase new vinyl though…mainly records that are insanely obscure that had miniscule original pressing runs or from small, contemporary labels that specialize in the LP as their primary format. Frankly, vinyl pressings of contemporary pressings from bands on major to midsize labels are a complete waste of money. Stuff like Arcade Fire’s recent record retailed at $25 for the vinyl version. Factor in the markup at a small store in an uber expensive retail neighborhood, and the prices for these items are going to be insane. I’ve always been willing to accept the retail markup in lieu of Amazon, Ebay, etc., but at a certain price point things become unsustainable. Plus, there’s always the argument that new records pressed on vinyl don’t actually sound any better than the CD and mp3 (not highly compressed at that). There’s plenty of room to argue and no right or wrong answer, but I assert that older records pressed from analog recordings sound leaps and bounds better that a Stooges repressing from 2010 taken from successive remastering jobs.

    Just my two cents.