In this era of Spotify, iTunes and all-things-digital – more analogue forms of music consumption (records, anyone?) may seem to have fallen to the wayside completely. And yet, on February 7, Rob Norton opened Hill & Dale, a record store selling new vinyl, in Georgetown. "Up until a couple years ago, it seemed like the time had passed and that it wasn't really possible. Record stores were closing and it didn't seem like something to do," Norton tells us. "But vinyl has come back to the point that it's viable again."
Hill & Dale is a long-held dream of Norton's, who left his marketing and communications work in the pharmaceutical industry to open it. At the moment, the store is his labor of love, though he's got one additional employee. It's outside of DC's record-shopping nexus at 18th and U streets because the rent wasn't too damn high – Norton says he scouted spaces for two to three years before settling on the shop's brick and mortar, a former gallery space in Georgetown.
There are strains of the shop's former life in Hill & Dale's offerings. Norton plans to sell and display art and posters—a mix of new, screen printed gig posters by independent artists and vintage varieties, notably from mid-century jazz gigs. On exhibit currently is the work of photojournalist Peter Simon, who snapped iconic shots of classic-rock icons and has continued to document music-makers to this day.
And aesthetics are part of the reason Norton is selling all new vinyl (at least to get going), a bold choice in an industry with slim margins. "Starting out, I didn't want to sell my personal collection. Also, it's just the way I wanted my store to look," he says. "One of the things that always overwhelmed me about every record store is that there's just so much there. There's what I loved about it, but it also freaked me out...I wanted to create a space that's a little more spare and a tribute to the art and the entire visual side as well." Hill & Dale's interior is clean, minimal, and airy. (Norton raised the ceilings of the 1,200 square-foot space to open it up.)
Norton, whose personal tastes careen from classic rock to prog rock to indie, jazz and blues, has chosen not to organize Hill & Dale's stock by genre, a departure from the regular regime of crate-digging. "We’re kind of genre-agnostic. I’ve organized it alphabetically, not by genre. I keep on telling people the same story," he laughs. "I missed out on 20 years of Miles Davis because I didn’t go to that section of Tower Records and that was such a big mistake."
At Hill & Dale, you can find Miles Davis next to Dead Weather, and the store itself at 1054 31st St. NW in Canal Square in Georgetown. Expect more programming from Norton, who hopes to hold shows, art events, and demonstrations.