Interview by Jordan Snowden/Photos by Mark Hoelscher
On the 200 block of Upshur Street in Petworth is an old brick building that still bears the sign of its former owner, Gumbo Louisiana Express. Don’t be fooled, though–the Southern stew is not what’s for sale here. Instead, it’s the home of D.C.’s newest record shop, Gumbo Records.
Gumbo Records is a part of DC Treasure, an antique shop owned by Petworth resident Noah David. Inside the quaint space is a sweeping collection of rare and vintage records that would impress even the most experienced vinyl collector. Gumbo’s main specialty is selling jazz and blues titles, with some of the store’s more recent offerings being an original 1959 press of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an original mono pressing of Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and an extensive list of titles from his Purpleness, Prince.
“We have a motto–“Loitering is not a crime at Gumbo Records,” and that’s something we really embrace,” said David. There’s a lot of character to the space, with vintage art displayed on the walls, a small lounge area for customers, and an all-around inviting vibe that imbues the store. For David, the goal is to make the record-buying process less intimidating for customers while also providing a warm and friendly space for neighbors to come in and hang out.
As the store approaches its one year anniversary, we spoke with David about how the space has become Petworth’s newest neighborhood gem.
D.C. Music Download: What led you to open Gumbo Records?
Noah David: I started selling records a couple years ago out of a back alley garage I was renting. It was kind of an offshoot of a vintage furniture business I started called DC Treasure. I clean-out properties for realtors and developers and started amassing a collection of records that were otherwise headed for the landfill.
How do you acquire records for the store?
We mainly find most of our records through word-of-mouth connections in D.C. We were also fortunate to recently acquire the inventory from an amazing jazz record shop that closed in Baltimore. That kind of took our collection to another level.
How long did it take for Gumbo to build-up its current collection?
It started with my personal collection and really went to the next level when my partner Charvis Campbell came on board six months ago. He had just acquired an enormous jazz collection, around 10,000 records. Well, his wife said ‘you’d better find a place for these records quick, because they’re not coming into the house.’ He came into the shop one day, told me what he had, and we shook hands that day.
How far have you traveled to find records for the store?
We’ve gone on picks to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but honestly the most satisfying finds are the ones in D.C, in your own neighborhood, where you’re finding treasure right under your nose.
In your opinion, what is the most prized record at the store?
We have a bunch of original press jazz records which are nice, but the one record that is not for sale in the shop is a beautiful copy of Andy Bey’s Experience and Judgement. If you haven’t heard it, get a copy, put it on, and let the spirit flow through you.
What kind of records do you have? Is there a particular genre that Gumbo collects?
We’ve got an extensive collection of jazz, and a lot of jazz sub-genres. We have a lot of R&B, reggae, hip-hop, and then a lot of mainstream pop/classic rock as well. We try to be well-rounded, though our epicenter is definitely jazz and blues.
What’s the history behind the building and former owner?
The shop used to be a Creole carryout called Gumbo Louisiana Express in the ’80s and ’90s (there’s a spirit folklore debate on the block as to when it was last serving gumbo).
It had been vacant since at least 2001 or so. I fell in love with the old sign that still hangs above years ago, and always hoped in the back of my mind I could do something there. So when the space became available in 2015, I was blessed to be able to bring it back to life.
It wasn’t much of a decision to name my blues and jazz shop Gumbo Records. We’ve kept the original sign and we have people that drive by and stop. Folks that remember it from back in the day–especially D.C. police–come in hoping we’re still selling gumbo. It’s disappointing to tell them no, sorry, just vinyl.
How many people work at the store?
It’s just my buddy Charvis and I.
What was it like getting the store off the ground, and did you feel like you achieved your vision?
I had never done a renovation of any sort, so to turn it from a vacant carryout restaurant into a record shop was a lot of fun. Folks would pop in while I was renovating, thrilled that Gumbo was finally being opened back up after 15 years. I felt love from the block from the start.
To be embraced by the community is a really rewarding feeling, because it is very much a labor of love. I’ve met so many friends over the past year that I would never have without the shop. We have a motto, “loitering is not a crime at Gumbo Records,” and that’s something we really embrace.
Gumbo is really more than a record shop. It’s become kind of a neighborhood hangout, and that’s what I wanted to create from the start; a lounge-type feel, come one, come all. I think some record shops can feel intimidating for people to just wander into, and we’d like to be the opposite of that.
October 12 will be our one year anniversary, and it’s been an amazing year.
Gumbo Records can be found on Facebook and Instagram, and followers will get 10 percent off their record purchases. The store is open on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 6 p.m.-9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Gumbo Records is located at 205 Upshur Street NW.