Hints of trouble in (Joe’s Record) Paradise; owner blames upcoming elections

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Instagram post left vinyl-loving music fans in the Washington area holding their collective breath.

On Friday, Johnson Lee, owner of Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring, photographed a Post-it note with a fading black magic marker, reading “Come in for deals this weekend. We may not be around much longer…”

For a record store with a long local history and that struggled to reopen in 2016, owner Johnson Lee tells WTOP his post was a bit heavy on the hyperbole.

“It was worded a little more ominously than I should have, perhaps,” said Lee, the son of founder Joe Lee, who took over the business in 2009. “It’s been a real tough two years.”

Lee said he initially posted while looking at quarterly taxes and recent profits, from music fans who prefer to get their music on vinyl or CDs, rather than in a digital form.

“More people are paying attention to records now,” said Lee, but “it’s been a ghost town around Silver Spring, D.C. — everywhere’s a ghost town.”

Lee believes the polarizing midterm elections are preoccupying would-be vinyl buyers.

“Everybody freezes up, everyone gets really tight. They have to finally involve themselves with politics,” said Lee. “It’s such a circus now that everyone is sort of forced to pay attention.”

The business owner notes that recorded music can serve several purposes, even in a tension-filled political season.

“You can get nice relaxing music, or you can get music that amps you up,” said Lee. “If you’re on the campaign trail, you’re going to want good, fun music that gets people involved, as opposed to sleepy-time Mantovani.”

In 2016, Lee launched a crowdfunding effort that helped cover costs, including paying his employees, as the popular shop met its building permit requirements with Montgomery County.

Despite his concerns, Lee said he hopes to weather the effects he believes politics is having on his business.

“I just can’t wait for the next two weeks to be over,” he acknowledges.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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