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Criminal Records expects to close | Business

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Criminal Records expects to close
Criminal Records expects to close

When it opened two decades ago, Criminal Records was a cutting-edge music store. But as the years passed, it slowly became a throwback--  embracing old vinyl and comic books and CDs in spite of dwindling sales.

"When you're making two bucks a CD it doesn't take -- it didn't take much to push us over," said Eric Levin, who opened the store in 1991 and still owns it.

Now Levin says Criminal Records is no longer sustainable as a business. He says the store will close, perhaps in November.

Criminal Records may be Atlanta's foremost independent record store.  It has a high-profile location in Little Five Points.  It stages regular free in-store concerts and autographs signings by music acts visiting Atlanta.

"I love that place. I always go into Criminal Records when I stop down there," said Rosinal Lambright, a Georgia State University junior.  She's part of a devoted customer base, which is nonetheless changing its music buying and listening habits -- like Lambright, who says she now downloads most of her music.

"It's not like I go there for the primary bulk of my music," said Lambright.  "And it's upsetting that it has to close. Because even though I like it, it's not like I go there regularly to purchase things."

Criminal Records can also trace its fall to a decision Levin made three years ago to expand the store -- right at the time the economy was crashing.

"It's what every small business is supposed to do, get bigger and badder and better," said Levin. "And we did."  But Levin says the balance sheet couldn't sustain the larger store.

Criminal Records is caught in a media market transformation that's closing book and video stores and had already closed most record store chains. Ironically, Levin founded a national coalition of independent record stores ten years ago to find ways to keep stores like Criminal Records in business.

"I wasn't prepared to give up this fight," Levin said.  His store has nine employees, he said.

Now the question is whether this quirky institution will last through the holidays.