It’s hard to imagine a cooler way to scoop up a few new records.
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, Charm School Social Club will play host to Paved Paradise, an inventive traveling expo featuring five labels, 15 stops throughout the eastern United States and one packed 24-foot Penske truck.
“It’s a test, so it’ll be exciting to get it out in the real world,” says Amanda Colbenson, special projects director for Ghostly International and longtime director of the Brooklyn Flea Record Fair. Ghostly is one of five Secretly Group imprints that will be set up beneath tents in the lot next to Charm School on Broad Street slinging vinyl, CDs, cassettes and a variety of other merch, including previously out-of-print items.
Labels have hit the road before; Numero Group, another one of the Secretly-affiliated labels riding with Paved Paradise, held a pop-up event in Richmond as recently as 2017. But Colbenson calls this particular rolling record store, which will also feature the Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian imprints, “the first of its kind.”
“What if we took this idea, but we did it across all [Secretly Group] labels, and we also got the personality of all the labels involved in it?” Colbenson remembers asking. “So it still has the structure, the bones of what Numero Group has been doing for the last five or six years, but we’re adding to that the catalogs and the experience of the other companies as well and making it a more fully rounded event.”
Albums will be arranged in custom-built modular bins, providing a truer record store experience than you’d find at your average record fair. Listening options will abound with sets by local DJs and a hi-res listening station designed by French streaming service Qobuz. And you don’t have to wait until the big day to start browsing; Each label has created a preview playlist streaming now via Qobuz and Spotify.
It’s all part of providing an in-store vibe at a time when convening inside remains risky. Initial planning took place in February, and safety has been top-of-mind.
“We’ve always put into consideration that we need to be as careful as possible,” Colbenson says. “That’s why we have been so emphatic about having everything outside. Keeping space. Having hand sanitizer. Having wipe downs. Having awareness of people and their space and what they’re comfortable with.”
This won’t be the first time the space next to Charm School has been re-purposed. According to the shop’s co-owner, Alex Zavaleta, that lot has facilitated ad hoc shopping before, including a punk swap meet, a band T-shirt market and a Bizarre Market pop-up.
“It’s unconventional for an ice cream shop to do,” Zavaleta says of playing host to Paved Paradise, “but it simultaneously very much makes sense for who we are.”
Music is woven into Charm School’s DNA. At a time when providing ambiance is as easy as throwing on a streaming playlist, Charm School dishes out a more intentional soundtrack, with an in-house turntable and an estimated 500 records in rotation.
“I think anyone who’s actually stepped into Charm School usually knows that we play music nonstop in the shop,” Zavaleta says. “I always joke that our record collection is better than any other ice cream shop’s.”
Several of those albums were acquired just across Broad Street during the years in which the Steady Sounds vinyl shop was open. “Charm School’s proximity to Steady Sounds was a very dangerous thing,” Zavaleta notes with a laugh. “You could find me over there pretty often. … Our accountant is very aware of the amount that we previously have spent on records that we keep in the shop.”
Zavaleta is excited to once again be able to step outside and buy vinyl nearby, especially from labels he holds in such high regard. “If we’re talking about Secretly, Jens Lekman or Cherry Glazerr or some of the other artists on the labels are artists that I really enjoy ... [it’s] a very unconventional thing for labels to [say] ‘Oh, we’re not going out with a band, we’re going out as ourselves.’ That to me is an exciting, cool thing for someone to do.”
Secretly made good on its commitment to innovation earlier this year when management agreed to recognize the union formed by its more than 80 workers, praising the new Secretly Group Union as “a positive step for our company and the industry writ large.” Paved Paradise is yet another instance of the forward-thinking spirit at the family of five imprints.
“All the labels have very different catalogs and styles,” Colbenson says, “everything from the music they release [to] their aesthetic approach. But I think that they all are really excited to find a new way to connect with their audience, and that’s what led us to Paved Paradise.”
Paved Paradise rolls through Richmond on Wednesday, Sept. 15, next to Charm School Social Club at 311 W. Broad St. from 3 to 8 p.m. For details, visit pavedparadise.secretlygroup.com.