January 19, 2012 at 11:47 am EST | by Juliette Ebner
A melodic farewell

Suzy and Jack Menase, owners of Melody Record Shop. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With the rising popularity of downloading music from places like iTunes and online stores like Amazon, more and more record stores are closing, surrendering to the convenience of not having to leave the house to get both new and old albums.

Melody Records, an institution in Dupont Circle since the late ‘70s, is just another casualty in that unfortunate trend. Local gays are lamenting its impending closure. It was always popular with Blade readers — it won several “Best of Gay D.C.” awards in the early ‘00s, which still hang in the store above the new releases.

“Melody Records was one of my first discoveries when I moved to D.C. more than 11 years ago,” Michael Collins, a gay D.C. resident, says. “I stopped there about once a week, sometimes more often than that, and I seldom left empty handed.”

The owners, Suzy and Jack Menase, opened the store in 1977 before moving to Dupont two years later after having to vacate their previous location on E Street when developers wanted to redevelop the area.

“We just found Dupont Circle to be a busy area and thought it would be a good location for us,” Suzy Menase says.

They’ve been in the business so long, they’ve always tried to stay on top of things, and seen all the trends come and go, then come again.

“It’s been like a full circle. We started with vinyl and now we’re ending with vinyl,” Suzy says. “It’s neat to see young kids coming in … they’re not excited about CDs but they’re excited about vinyl.”

“I think the sound quality that they heard made it very attractive,” Jack Menase says.

The store has always held a wide selection of genres, including large sections of seemingly less popular genres such as opera, new age and more.

“The opera queens would squeal while the uber cool disco boys looked for the German imports of what would later be called ‘industrial’ in the specialty bins,” says Stephen Yasko, general manager of WTMD 89.7 in Baltimore.

The Menases have always worked to make sure they have a full selection with a little bit of something for everyone.

“If we don’t have it in stock, we order it for them,” Jack Menase says.

“With CDs, if you can’t sell something, you can return it,” Suzy says. “It’s not one person deciding what we carry.”

The Menases announced they were closing through a letter on their website, saying, “technology, the internet and the economy has taken its toll.”

“In the past two or three years, sales have been declining … we saw it coming, but we were just trying to hold on,” Suzy says. “We have such a strong, loyal customer base, we wanted to stay as long as possible.”

They both remember a time when there was an abundance of record stores in the D.C. area that all survived until the early 90s.

“One by one, everybody closed down,” Jack says.

Being in Dupont, the store automatically became a favorite spot for gay customers.

“Where else could you run across a copy of Ethel Merman’s disco album from the ’70s?” Collins says.

Also, Lambda Rising — a gay bookstore and staple of Dupont Circle — used to be next door.

“We were very sorry to see them go,” Jack says.

“Whoever came to them, whoever came to us went to them,” Suzy says. “They were great neighbors to have.”

Some music lovers continued to purchase CDs — at least in some genres — even into the digital music era.

“I loved Melody,” says Kevin Lees, a gay Washington resident. “I still typically buy classical and sometimes jazz in physical CD format for the copious liner notes and anytime I was looking for something in particular, I would always look at Melody first as my contribution to local stores in the face of Amazon. I’m surprised it lasted so long and that it outlasted Lambda Rising but sadly, the record store is clearly destined to be a thing of the past.”

There are a few members of the staff who have been working at the store for years, including a few who have been around for more than 10 years.

There are a lot of people who have been going to the store for years and some are even on a first-name basis with the Menases.

“They know my whole family and I know theirs,” Suzy says. “It’s not customers, they’re family.”

“I was heartbroken when I saw the going-out-of-business sign on the window,” Collins says. “What a regrettable loss for Dupont Circle and for all Washington music lovers.”

The shop is at 1623 Connecticut Ave., N.W. No firm closing date has been set. For now, it’s open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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