Ten years ago, the thought of a major label artist releasing their new album on vinyl sounded like a marketing stunt, a ploy to reach a only small niche of collectors or DJs. During the last few years, however, among the tidal wave of available streaming services and digital retailers, the old format has become new again. According to Forbes, vinyl sales have grown 260 percent since 2009, and the numbers suggest that 2015 may be the biggest year yet.

The most exciting aspect of vinyl’s rebirth is the reemergence of actual brick and mortar record stores — places like Mobius Records on University Drive in Fairfax, Va. We stopped by the shop to speak with owner and proprietor Dempsey Hamilton about his life-long love of vinyl, the thrill of becoming his own boss, and how he’s handling the success of his new career, and all the elephants that have come with it.

How did the initial idea for Mobius Records take shape?

On Record Store Day (RSD) in April 2014, I thought, “I’m going to open a record store.” Then, when I told my wife, the idea came out of my mouth. I couldn’t take it back. My original plan was that I’d go to NOVA [community college], take some classes and maybe by the next April (2015), we’ll start to open the store. But by then, we’d been open for six months. It’s still stupid to think about (laughs).

I signed the lease with no business plan — nothing. If I’d thought about it, it never would have happened. I just had to do it. So once I signed the lease, I started thinking, “What am I going to do about record bins?” Luckily I’ve got a friend who’s a master carpenter out in Lovettsville. I just moved in above his garage and lived there for two weeks while we built all of these bins and this desk. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I had no experience in retail whatsoever.

I’ve been a collector for a long time, and I was in the music business for 20 years as a sound engineer. Whenever I was in any city, after sound check, the first thing I would do was find the local record store, and just immerse myself in my “Moment of Zen,” basically, from the monotony of the road.

I started noticing, from about 2008 to 2010, I wasn’t the only person in the record store on a Tuesday afternoon. Then, [throughout] the years I went, “Man, this is actually happening. People are interested in this.” Long story short, it has been awesome, and it’s still kind of perplexing that it’s working.

Do you think the nearby student population has helped? You’re in a perfect spot, just a few blocks from the George Mason campus.

Exactly! Which was never really a super conceited effort, but it was a thought that, “Hey, they’re there.” I didn’t realize how much the youth is involved in records right now, but it’s fantastic. It presents its challenges, of course. It makes me have to immerse myself in music that I’m not so familiar with. We’ve got some used records, but our focus really is on being a place to get new music.

The students are probably a factor, and it’s also the overall community. The Record & Tape Exchange in Fairfax City has been there for like 20 years, and we’re great friends. They are hugely supportive. I get people walking in here every day saying, “Hey, I’ve never heard of you, but the guys down the street told me to come check you out.” And vice versa, when people are looking specifically for used stuff it’s so easy to say, “Man, three miles down the road. They’re 90 percent used.” So we coexist fantastically.

There’s also Vienna Music Exchange, which is on Church Street in Vienna, and they specialize in metal and black metal. We all like to support each other. It’s nice to tell people, “Hey, there are two other stores. You can do a whole afternoon just staying in Fairfax.”

I used to come to this exact spot a few years ago when it was The Second Yard, an upholstery and home furnishing store. My mother-in-law worked here! So coming back, or to DeClieu (Mobius’ upstairs coffee and sandwich shop neighbor), it’s so cool to see the area’s transformation. Was that change into the “New” Old Town Fairfax something you were aware of, or even hoped would happen?

In the back of my head, maybe. It wasn’t really that big of a picture. I’d come here to Marlowe Ink a bunch before I moved in 2008. I always thought there was such great potential for an artistic vibe that could happen here, especially by embracing the college students, which I think the city never really did. I feel like now, the city is finally beginning to really involve the student population and treating it more like a college town than it ever was before. That said, there’s definitely something about this place that’s been brewing.

The Factory Tees was here. Marlowe Ink has been here since 2001, I believe. DeClieu opened upstairs, which is a perfect match — coffee and records. The Standard barbershop is killing it. There are also two art galleries that have opened up in the neighborhood in the past nine months as well. It’s an organic thing happening right now. There’s not so much interest in the everyday “cookie cutter” box stores and chains that you see all over Northern Virginia. There’s originality happening. That’s one of the best parts of this, the support from the community since we started.

Looking back, before any ideas for the shop took shape, what drew you to seek out record stores on the road, as opposed to just picking up a CD from Target?

There’s a comfort level to a record store. It’s like a home base away from home. No matter what the store is or the vibe, I always feel like I know I’m amongst a vast supply of friends. I can get lost for hours just flipping through. I don’t even need to buy anything. It’s just being in that element.

A lot of the past misnomers of record stores being an elitist atmosphere, that’s gone out the window. There’s obviously jaded people anywhere you go, but the stores around here that I know of, everyone really loves music, so there’s tons to talk about. People connect to that interaction. That’s why I like going into stores like that. There’s always a conversation to be had, or a lesson to be learned. I’m no wizard. I learn about new bands every day from the people who come here, and that’s great.

I’m not an advocate for throwing away that technology. In fact, most of the time, I listen to see what’s coming out or what’s been out for a week just so I can see if it’s something that’s worth taking a chance on for the store. The world is too vast at this point to just be like, “No! This is all I do! I only listen to vinyl.”

You’re always posting photos of whatever new records come into the store on your social media accounts, keeping people up to date on availability. Has that been your primary vehicle for spreading the word these last ten months?

In this day and age, social media is such a great thing. I’ve never paid for advertising, and I don’t plan on it. If someone sees an ad for a record store, and they’re not a record collector, they’re not going to think, “Oh, I should go there.” It’s mostly word of mouth, and so far, it’s working.

But even beyond word of mouth, you’ve done an incredible job at creating this brand that immediately stands out, sticks with people, and starts conversations. How did you come up with the name and logo?

The name came from my wife. She’s a math teacher, and Möbius is a scientist. He created The Möbius Strip. Basically, you take a piece of paper, and you invert it. It has no beginning or end. It’s a continuous strip. So it represented the cyclical nature of vinyl for me. It’s not like it’s something that people need to know when they walk through the door. It’s just a cool name. But, for me, and for my wife, it means something. And it doesn’t pigeonhole us into a genre.

The elephant is another weird thing. When I thought, “Okay, I need a brand and some sort of identity,” I contacted one of my tattoo artists, and we started thinking about things. We probably went through three or four brainstorming sessions where we came up with nothing. Then one day he called me and he goes, “Dude, I tattooed you years ago. You have an elephant on your knee and a record player on your back. You’ve been destined to do this for a long time.” So we just started talking about it, and it stuck. As soon as I saw the logo and we put it together with the name, it was a no-brainer.

We never set out to be a brand, but I definitely get people that come buy shirts but don’t buy records. People bring me elephants now! So all of a sudden it’s grown into this identity, which is fun, but nothing we ever sought out to do. We just figured we’d have something that wasn’t associated with a genre or some sort of classification.

We never wanted to do sub-genres because then it would alienate people from looking at other sections. Having just general blanket ROCK, to have death metal next to folk rock, I feel like that way you look at everything. You get exposed to things you never would have before. If you were like, “I only listen to hardcore music. I’m going to walk in there and only look at the hardcore section,” you’re missing out. So that was the idea, to throw it all into one overall genre and try to keep it open from there.

You do have a sub-genre for local music though. How do you find the local artists that you feature here?

We’ll see how the genre thing evolves. If this trend keeps going, great, but if it doesn’t you’ll start seeing CDs in here or other forms of media. For right now, though, the CDs we do carry are specifically for that local section, and that is only for them to get their stuff out there. I don’t care what format it’s on as long as they have a place where they can send their friends to go buy their music. That’s all that counts for me. It’s not about us. That section is not for me to gain any profits. That is strictly for bands to get exposure.

Being a musician for many years and knowing how difficult it is to get your shit out there, that was important to me — to have a place where people can go and find local music, to take a chance on stuff. We have everything in there, from country to hardcore. It’s a big mishmash. I want everyone to think that they can sell their stuff in a record store without having to think, “Where am I going to fit in, or how do we get the money?” Screw that, man. It’s much more fun to do it this way.


I came in here on RSD in April at what I thought was an early enough time to get a few of the releases and you were pretty much already cleaned out by 12:30 p.m. What was that day like?

That day was special because that was our second RSD. The first one we did was Black Friday, and that was much smaller. I think we had maybe 12 people in line for Black Friday. We’d only been open for roughly two-and-a-half months at that point so I don’t think anyone knew who the hell we were. So for the 12 people that were here that day, we were ecstatic.

This year, for the April RSD, it was so overwhelming. It had been a year since the idea. My wife and I basically broke down in the parking lot like, “Holy shit.” We got here, and the line was already down at the other end of the parking lot. I never ever expected that. We planned on opening at 9 a.m., but we ended up opening at 8:30 just to let everybody in. My first customer was here at 4:30 in the morning, taking pictures on Instagram. I woke up at 6:30 and was like, “There are people at the store already!” The turnout and the support was phenomenal. I’m completely overwhelmed just thinking about it. It was an incredibly cool day.

After the success of that day, now that you’ve come this far, what’s your ultimate goal for Mobius Records? What do you want to see this place become?

There’s already been a great sense of community that’s [arisen] from this place. I’ve had people that have met each other and become friends in here. That part has been amazing. The amount of people that I’ve forged relationships with here is really rad. I don’t have any lofty goals. I’d like to sustain and adapt with the times. That’s my focus. A second location or anything like that is beyond my thought process at this time. We want to support this community, and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Ultimately, I want people to walk through these doors and not feel pretension, to feel that they can ask any question that they want, and to find something for everybody. As long as people are listening, that’s all I care about, because there’s so much great music out there.

For more updates on Mobius Records, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and Instagram.

Alex Aloise

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *