The Atlanta music scene was stunned last week when Criminal Records owner Eric Levin announced, on the eve of his independent music store's 20th anniversary, that it's on the verge of collapse. Minutes after the news hit the Internet, word of a "Save Criminal" campaign began to spread. Levin must raise $150,000 by November 1 in order to pay off debt that he has accrued since moving the Little Five Points store three years ago to the current location at 1154-A Euclid Ave. Since then, Criminal Records has tripled its expenses while watching sales dwindle. But Levin, who also owns Aurora Coffee in L5P and presides over the national Alliance of Independent Media Stores, is still hoping for the best.
In light of the country's economic slump and music sales perpetually taking a hit, do you still want to keep the store open?
Of course I want it to continue. I didn't want to lead the "Save Criminal" parade — it's kind of tacky — but as embarrassed as I am to accept help, I will!
What happens November 1?
I owe a lot of money on that date. Taxes have backed up, but the Georgia Department of Revenue has been kind in working with us. We've built up a huge debt by coasting on credit for a long time. It finally caught up. Will there be chains on the doors that day? No. We're going to be around for a little while after that, but that's the date that determines for how long.
Manchester Orchestra donated a live in-store performance to your cause. What else is in the works?
It was [Favorite Gentleman label owner] Jeremiah Edmond's idea to create a digital storage locker for songs and videos, and copy the "Save Paste" [magazine] model. Folks have asked where to donate, and I'm used to giving something cool in exchange for money. Now, with a little help from our friends, folks who donate $10 and up will get access to some really awesome stuff. We have an amazing catalog of recorded in-stores that we're asking for permission to use, but we're still working on the site.
[Store buyer] Shannon [Mulvaney] is attempting to reunite Magnapop's original lineup to play a benefit. Orange Amps and Variety Playhouse are throwing us a huge party on October 15. Mastodon has big plans in mind; same goes for the Indigo Girls. Butch Walker and former Criminal/Aurora employee Fran Capitanelli — Butch's guitarist — will celebrate the release of his solo record here. Black Lips, Deerhunter, MC Chris, Drive-By Truckers, Dave [Willis] from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," even folks that I don't know have offered support. Whiskey Gentry gave us some CDs. Lucy Dreams and the Pretty Ambitious gals did the same. Smith's Olde Bar, Masquerade and Graveyard Tavern have all offered us dates. Even Jermaine Dupri dropped us a nice Tweet!
How will Criminal change if it goes on?
Criminal would be totally doable if I didn't have to service my collective debt, which includes Criminal and Aurora Coffee, while simultaneously expanding both businesses. It took 20 years of solid work to get this far into debt, not corporate debt, but deep, personal debt, and I've loved every minute of it. It's too early to talk about moving, staying put or going co-op. My hope is to meet the debt ceiling and invite the staff into a participatory ownership position, then bust out making records and host more shows.