The throbbing base line from the in-house stereo during the 10:00 a.m. opening of the CD Cellar “gets us moving in the morning,” said co-owner Dave Giese. Preparing for another day of selling, evaluating and purchasing CDs and LPs in an age of streaming, he and the full-time staff of six (plus part-timers) sort their wares and await visits to Falls Church from the putative “Two percent of the population that buys 80 percent of the music.”
A 60-year-old who has haunted record shops since the late ‘70s, Giese said streaming services (like Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music) “have hurt the perceived value of CDs, a bit less so for LPs,” which continue their comeback. But the CD Cellar has continued to thrive in the used-recordings marketplace for 32 years, since Giese and partner David Schlank in 2015 moved it to 105 Park Ave. from a basement on Broad Street.
“We have a nice little music community,” Giese said, noting that the move put them a few doors down from “our good friends at Action Music, one of the best guitar shops on the East Coast. We support each other in a great spot surrounded by terrific bars and restaurants, two nearby studios, two audio shops (for speakers and players), plus the State Theatre.”
The CD Cellar does offer a few models of turntables and some movies on DVD. But the two-room sales space is dominated by the entrance room lined with labeled dividers housing about half new and half used releases from favored genres: rock, hip-hop, reggae, blues, folk, county, gospel, international, metal, electronica, comedy and an amorphous category called “oldies.” The smaller room showcases the LPs and the classical and jazz.
Every week three or four U-Haul trucks deliver new wares. “The constant flow makes it interesting, the stock changes so quickly,” Giese said.
“It’s interesting to see who comes in Monday through Friday.” This is when his team is more likely to see a “personality type” they nickname “omnivores,” or advanced collectors of varying formats seeking to “fill in holes in their collection.” But on weekends, the shop at any time might host 40-50 multi-generational customers who “are new to the hobby, just getting going with the basics, not filling in nooks and crannies” in their personal jukebox. The staff aims to “suit both constituencies,” Giese says. “We work hard to make everyone feel welcome and get a sense of who knows what and what guidance they need.”
Four CD Cellar staffers have been guiding music buyers for decades, Giese says, while others come with five-plus years of experience retailing sounds. “It’s a nice place to work, and people stick around,” he adds. “It’s great to watch the collective mind of what we should carry.”
The staff who do the buying bring a collective 40 years of experience grading records by condition. With both CDs and LPs, the evaluation “is a visual thing.” Rather than play every used recording offered, staffers eyeball the “tracks from the inside out.” The price goes down from “cosmetically perfect” to a lower price if the item is “playable but has slight defects.” To rescue “gunky or high-dollar pieces,” evaluators use an ultrasonic cleaner (a “$4,000 gizmo,” Giese calls it) that deploys a cleaning solution and distilled water.
When a customer submits a batch, the team “pulls titles with some value, checks the condition and, based on how each is selling and its price if brand new,” makes offers. Either cash or store credit (the latter gives 30 percent more value). Repeat customers form “a virtuous circle,” Giese notes, “always wanting new stuff,” but trading in when they get “buyer’s remorse” on a release not as good as they’d hoped.
The Cellar’s website promotes the annual Capital Audiofest held in November at the Rockville, Md., Hilton, where vendors demonstrate fancy new electronic players. “You can listen to your heart’s content on equipment that can cost $1 million,” says Giese, who attends with a sampling of high-end “boutique” recordings to sell.
“I don’t pay attention to the bells and whistles of streaming,” says the retro shop-keeper. “I prefer recordings. They’re all great formats.” He also enjoys helping revive timeless recordings “that are receding from people’s attention.”
The CD Cellar “doesn’t make a ton of money,” Giese says. But profits are sufficient to “be able to run the store in a relatively expensive part of the country.”