On a 31-degree Sunday morning, dozens of eager vinyl collectors wrapped around E Street hoping to get first dibs on Penn Social's 2013 DC Record Fair. Over the years, the semi-annual event has floated between different venues throughout the District and its neighboring Maryland counties. The fair was last hosted by the social club this past winter, when it was still known as the extremely short-lived Riot Act Comedy Theater. Early birds were charged a $5 cover fee to gain admission before noon, while their less ambitious counterparts paid just a couple bucks for delayed entry.
Once inside, patrons encountered a labyrinth of record bins shuffled across the cramped street level showroom floor. Opposite of every cluster of milk crates stood personable merchants with seemingly photographic recollections of the historic context behind every article within their mobilized inventory. The initial wave of consumers eventually migrated downstairs, where the fair unfolded into a fully-realized marcocosm of the bustling marketplace above. To ensure that all the apathetic spouses and significant others dragged along to the convention were provided entertainment beyond digging through dusty records, Penn Social provided several time-consuming distractions. Vintage arcade games, pool billiards, alternating live DJ's, enormous projection screens, and a reasonably adequate cash bar circled the perimeter of the sprawling 10,000 square foot cellar.
Immediately apparent was the high concentration of unaccompanied women, ranging from collegiate damsels to seasoned cougars, thumbing through merchandise on their own accord. Cherisse Rivera, who coyly refused to divulge her age, was in attendance with a budding collective of local music enthusiasts billed as the DC Vinyl Lovers. Despite her entourage boasting an even keel gender ratio, the former upstate New Yorker was taken aback by the function's glaring diversity. But she could only speak on her own incentives for investing a sizable portion of disposable income into such a dated medium. "I like the idea of cover art and the feel of vinyl," she confessed. "It's just something about it."
Record vendors were more than willing to accommodate Cherisse's newfound fascination with the tangible nature of wax pressings. Sam Locke, an Englishmen that claimed he was lured across the pond by a beautiful woman, was bartering on behalf of Silver Spring's Record Exchange. Located on the middlemost stretch of Georgia Avenue (quite literally a stone's throw away from Joe's Record Paradise), the store is a reliable plug for secondhand multimedia and antique video game consoles. When asked how management narrowed down exactly which pieces were suitable for the event, he hinted toward the age-old adage of knowing your customer. "We brought a lot of new stuff," he explained. "For other record fairs we usually bring more used vinyl, but in DC it seems like people want quality reissues. There are basically two types of buyers. Some people just want to listen, while others [build] a collection they'll never even play."
Not every vendor approached the fair with a preordained, company sanctioned game plan. Tom Peterson, a long-time Baltimore resident, was one of many independent freelancers simply trying to unload their household clutter. "[I work for] my basement," he scoffed when pressed about his store affiliation. "I just do this as a hobby sometimes." Tom routinely peddles vinyl out of his hometown's Arbutus Record Show, hosted by a volunteer fire department on the 3rd Sunday of every month, but he was certain his latest trek beyond the beltway would yield a pretty penny. "I'll probably sell a few hundred units," he estimated while peering over the growing mob of aggressive shoppers. His confidence, which proved to be absolutely warranted, is what makes the DC Record Fair such an essential soiree for local vinyl collectors. It drives competitive prices on quality pieces by placing all merchants on equal footing, regardless of their size, repute or tax bracket. Not to mention there was plenty of cold foreign beer on tap.