Hampden record store Celebrated Summer Records has managed to stay open, and even thrive, for eight years in a time when post people have stopped buying music altogether. CP talked with store owner Tony Pence by emall and text messages about the store's history and an upcoming anniversary show at the Ottobar.
City Paper: How did Celebrated Summer start?
Tony Pence: I had worked at Reptilian Records for 10 years previous to starting—almost everything I learned about running a store came from my time there. When Chris [X, owner of the long-running Baltimore record store, now closed] decided to move from Fells Point to next to the Ottobar, I opened Celebrated Summer out in Towson where we would not be competing with each other and then when he eventually closed Reptilian I moved in with Atomic Books in Hampden. At the same time Chris was contemplating his initial move to Remington, my friend Oliver Jones was running a store in Baltimore called Shop Gentei, he was the first person to take me over to Japan. I saw the incredibly small but amazingly stocked stores there like Record Shop BOY (Koenji) and Punk and Destroy (Osaka) and I knew I could do something like that back in Baltimore. That trip was the true birth of Celebrated Summer in my mind.
CP: What's your goal for the store?
TP: Previous to opening, I had the good fortune to travel to almost every state in the U.S. and across Europe and Japan while being a roadie or playing in bands. I would go to record stores all over and I started keeping a mental list of the things I really hated about the bad ones. My goal—then and now—is to avoid all of the typical "shitty" record store behavior: Rude unwelcoming store, snooty employees, etc. And to just have a clean, well organized, and friendly shop, while at the same time selling nothing online or on eBay.
I also want to expand doing more photo and flier exhibitions. Our first two were [on] early Baltimore punk and metal, but I keep hoping to stumble upon folks with some classic soul and jazz photos as well!
CP: You've shared a storefront with Atomic for a long time, and even now share square footage. What's that like?
TP: When I knew that my time in Towson was coming to an end, Atomic Books was the first and last name on the list of places I wanted to move to. I had been shopping there as long ago as when Scott Huffines owned it and they were located on Read Street and through the entire time Benn and Rachel had been running it as well. Atomic is a classic Baltimore institution and they have a beyond impeccable store aesthetic, it was just a perfect match and it's worked out perfectly.
CP: There is a lot of talk in the news of the big vinyl comeback. How is that affecting you?
TP: Having done time through the "Dark Days" of 1993 into the mid-2000s, where vinyl was strictly in the purview of punk and hardcore and DJ/hip-hop culture, it is really nice to see it swing back into the public consciousness in a serious way. I remember them throwing out stacks of mark-down LPs at White Marsh Mall Record Masters and if you had told me then that in 20 years time I would be able to buy a record player in a Target, I would never have believed it.
That said, if and when things shift back to a different format or vinyl loses its current flair, I'm sure there will be people that will carry the banner til it comes around again.
CP: What's your craziest retail story from eight years of CSR?
TP: Well, unlike the total Wild West days of when I worked at Reptilian, things have been a bit more low-key in the Celebrated Summer era. I still occasionally have what I like to call a "Reptilian Moment," like when some guy came running into the store, stopped dead and screamed at me: "MAN, I AIN'T EVEN FROM THIS PLANET!"
Other than that, because I have made the store look as little like a record store as possible from the outside—with our huge cartoon cat mascot on the windows, and with colorful bubble letters—people sometimes come in and ask if we sell ice cream or candy, which always makes me laugh and feel like I have done a great job in designing the antithesis of a dark and unwelcoming shop. Honestly, I really try to discourage the crazy as much as possible nowadays.
CP: 7 Seconds is an iconic band. Can you talk about what they mean to you and why you had them play the anniversary?
TP: 7 Seconds is an all-time favorite of mine, such a clean and classic punk sound and they have continued over the years as a guiding light of that early scene. They were the first punk band I listened to that wrote lyrics about treating women as equals in punk, gay rights, and just an overwhelming message of tolerance. I am beyond happy that they are playing this anniversary.
Celebrated Summer’s 8th Anniversary Party is at the Ottobar this Tuesday and features 7 Seconds as well as the Copyrights, Praise, and Tony Pence’s own band WarXGames.