Photo: Cristina O'Connell

Record Store Day 2017: Rob Norton of Hill & Dale

From the healthcare industry to helping run a record store, Hill & Dale’s owner Rob Norton grew up cultivating his love of music via repeated listens of old cassette tapes and vinyl records. With Record Store Day fast approaching on April 22, we caught up with Norton to talk about the renaissance of this timeless medium.

On Tap: When did you open your store, and what inspired your decision to open it?
Rob Norton: We opened in January 2014. I grew up playing in bands, living and breathing music, and always wanted a record store. The recent resurgence of interest in vinyl records made it possible to open a store. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Operating a record shop is hard work, but it’s well worth the effort. Nothing’s better than offering an interesting selection of music for other people to explore and enjoy.

OT: What were you doing before Hill & Dale?
RN: Before the record store, I was working for a big company in the healthcare industry. I was about as far from the music industry as you get. Life is much better now.

OT: How have you seen the vinyl scene change in recent years?
RN: The vinyl resurgence has helped new record shops open. It’s helped more established shops thrive, and it’s made it possible for vinyl-only DJs to have the records they need to keep up with new music. We’re seeing turntables pop up all over the place. In the last week, I’ve seen four [or] five turntables in coffee shops, sandwich shops and in retail stores.

OT: Why do you think vinyl is still relevant today?
RN: It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the continuing relevance of vinyl. For some people, it has to do with sound and the higher quality they hear when they play an LP instead of a digital file. Some people like the combination of the record and the packaging with artwork that can be touched and enjoyed in a larger, more visible format. For many of our customers, buying and enjoying a vinyl record is a social event where a few people can play a record and listen to it all the way through in the order originally intended by the artist. For many others, buying records is an exercise in nostalgia. They’re enjoying music the way they originally discovered it. Finally, I think there are a lot of people who just want something that’s more substantial and enduring than a digital file playing out of earbuds or substandard computer speakers.

OT: Any upcoming vinyl-themed events on your radar?
RN: Gypsy Sally’s has a vinyl listening room that’s pretty good (and close to our shop), and Songbyrd has a great lineup of vinyl-listening events.

OT: What’s the best part of owning a record store in DC? What about the most challenging?
RN: The best part is offering a selection of music that excites people, and selling records that make people happy. You can’t understate the value of offering something that people enjoy. The most challenging part is operating a shop year round with many, many moving parts: finding and buying new records, making sure customers know about the store and that their experience is positive, [and] sometimes handling customers who seem demanding or may be disappointed. Whatever challenges we’ve encountered are greatly outweighed by the positives.

OT: Why do you feel that Record Store Day is important to the local music community?
RN: Anything that gets people out enjoying music and supporting artists is great for the DC music community. This year, the folks at Crooked Beat Records are putting out an excellent Record Store Day exclusive compilation that includes a number of local artists celebrating the music of The Clash. That’s a great local record shop releasing an interesting record with representation from our area.

Hill & Dale: 1054 31st St. #010, NW, DC; 202-333-5012;