Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the groups that are organizing an Oct. 15 benefit show. Patch sincerely regrets the error.
Last Tuesday, Eric Levin, the owner of Criminal Records in Little Five Points, announced he would be closing his 20-year-old business in November.
And the city freaked.
A Facebook page called “Save Criminal Records Atlanta” was created (without Levin’s knowing) and it has nearly 9,000 fans and counting.
Bands like Manchester Orchestra and The Carnivores have offered to “donate” exclusive tracks that you will soon be able to download for a donation of $10 (or $20, $50 or $100) at SaveCriminal.com (site is currently in progress).
And benefit concerts are popping up everywhere from Star Bar in Little Five to Smith’s Olde Bar in Midtown.
Levin made the decision to close the legendary Atlanta music haven for simple reasons: debt.
“It’s our 20th anniversary and I decided I couldn’t continue to lose money,” Levin said.
“It took 20 years to dig a hole this deep and we’ve been struggling. I decided early in the year, I was going to give it until November. The decision had been made.”
Well…until the city rallied to turn that decision around. Levin is not one to boast about Criminal’s 20 years of success (“It’s hard to say ‘We did it,’ and be modest at the same time.”) or even accept charity (“Accepting help is what I’ve never done—I believe in anonymous giving.”), but seeing the community’s response has forced him to address the Criminal Records legacy.
“Now that the community is coming back with such incredible ways to support us and all this love, it’s a bit of a validation of two decades of hard work. That sounds arrogant, but it has really been humbling.”
One of these acts of kindness comes from of 4th Ward Heroes, who is planning a benefit concert at Star Bar on October 6 with the support of Fallen Arrows, Double Phantom Records, Pink House Tapes, Team Luis, Whynatte and more. The lineup is TBA.
“As an advocate and promoter of local music, I am a huge supporter of Criminal Records. It is an invaluable asset to the community,” Sole said.
“Where else in Atlanta can a band (without a record label, manager, lawyer, etc.), walk directly into a store and sell their music on consignment? This is vital to local bands. From a fan's perspective, where else can one see an all-ages show for free only a few hours before the same band plays a sold-out show at a 21+ venue for instance?
"It will be a very sad day if Criminal Records has to close its doors. I don't even want to think about what it will mean. Instead, I'm just going to focus on trying to do whatever I can to keep them in business.”
“What Malissa is doing is indicative of what everyone is doing,” Levin said.
“She sent me an e-mail saying, ‘I know you’re busy, but I’m doing this.’ That’s just unbelievable.”
A benefit night at Smith’s Olde Bar is in the works, possibly with big names like Deerhunter and Black Lips. Levin foresees more shows as well.
“With everything that is progressing, I think we are going to be able to survive and take on a new mission,” Levin said.
What that means, no one knows right now.
“There’s no plan, just ideas. This whole thing has opened up so many new wonderful ideas on an ownership level. We’re exploring everything from the co-op model to the nonprofit model and sharing ownership with the staff.”
But don’t worry—Levin isn’t going anywhere as long as Criminal is around.
“I want to be on board. I want to work there!” he said with a laugh.
“Maybe it’s similar to what Steve Jobs just did. I don’t know exactly what ‘president’ or 'CEO' would mean in this sense, but that sounds pretty good.”
Orange Amplifiers, Paste Magazine and Variety Playhouse are throwing a benefit show at Variety on Oct. 15 to benefit Criminal Records and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund’s Night of Sweet Relief, which helps, ill, disabled and older musicians.
Blaming the Internet is not what Levin likes to indulge in, but in this case, there’s no denying it’s a major factor.
“Shopping on Amazon.com and iTunes doesn’t support your city and local economy at all. They don’t collect a tax. And I think we provide a better experience than shopping on one of those sites.”
And something you online music purchasers may not know: you can purchase your music digitally on Criminal’s website for prices comparable to iTunes.
“The problem is that Criminal Records has always been underfunded,” Levin said.
“But 20 years is still awesome—it’s a success in and of itself. People were entertained and employees were clothed, fed, and insured.”
And if Atlanta has its way, none of those things will change.