The 50 Best Record Stores In America is an essay series where we attempt to find the best record store in every state. These aren’t necessarily the record stores with the best prices or the deepest selection; you can use Yelp for that. Each record store featured has a story that goes beyond what’s on its shelves; these stores have history, foster a sense of community and mean something to the people who frequent them.
Walking down the main street in Carrboro, North Carolina, it’s easy to breeze right past All Day Records. The recessed door requires a step in, and if you’re walking too fast, you could miss it. But inside this hole in the wall is a safe haven for folks interested in house, dance, disco, world music and other rare finds. Started in 2010 by Ethan Clauset and Charlie Hearon, it began as a record store tailored to them. “All Day Records is a store that we started because we wanted to run a record store that was a place that we wanted to shop,” says Clauset.
In a state made infamous for their “bathroom bill” declaring transgender individuals were unable to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, All Day stands out and greets everyone with a rainbow “safe space” sticker on the door. The bathroom bill, or HB2, made companies like Pepsi and Paypal pull out of the state, the NCAA threaten to move tournaments, artists like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam avoid traveling here for concerts and other states institute bans on travel to North Carolina. When I chose to move to the area, all of this political turmoil was at a fever pitch and I wondered if I was making the right decision. All Day has been like a beacon that not all of North Carolina is like its exclusionary local politicians.
All Day Records is not only a record store, but a distributor of dance and house labels worldwide. All Day’s sister establishment, the Nightlight, is one of the best spots in North Carolina, welcoming dance parties of all kinds, punk shows, film screenings, fundraising events for places like the Carolina Abortion Fund and everything in between. “With both businesses, we try to make it a safe space for people who are not part of the dominant politics around here,” said Clauset. “Chapel Hill and Carrboro are pretty white and they have a real liberal reputation, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into more progressive or leftist politics.”
I’ve only been living in the area for about six months, but I’ve been visiting for much longer. Visitors are welcomed into the shop with the new arrivals, full of both new and used records. The new records include rare finds from across the globe in dance, disco, quirky compilations, and more. Every trip to North Carolina required a stop into All Day and my pick of a selection I couldn’t get anywhere else, even at the awesome record stores in Nashville where I’d been living before. The store settled my nerves about moving to the area: It proves the music scene is thriving, there are politically engaged people that care about others and there are business owners who are deeply concerned about their community. I’ve met some great people at All Day and their events who welcomed me to the area in a way I’d never felt anywhere else.
Owners Clauset and Hearon make their intentions crystal clear in concrete ways. The Carrboro “safe space” sticker is unmissable on the door. When Durham became a hotspot of protest against the prominence of celebratory confederate statues, Clauset closed the store to go join the demonstration. After the Harvey Weinstein allegations came to light, Clauset posted October 16, 2017, on his Facebook page “I see & hear y’all. Nightlight & All Day Records & all of our projects have tried to establish egalitarian social spaces that actively oppose misogyny & harassment, but there’s always more I can do.”
Karina Soni, a longtime employee of the store and former manager for famed college radio station UNC’S WXYC, points out that as a woman, it can be really intimidating to be in a record store. She says when working behind the counter one day, a man got verbally abusive with her and Clauset immediately banned him from the store and Nightlight for life. Soni helps ship out records, plan special events like Record Store Day and All Day’s birthday parties, and runs the store every Sunday. “I feel safe at the record store. And I feel empowered to speak up if something's not right. I feel like my input is respected and valued,” she says. I can vouch for this — I’ve never felt excluded from conversation with the store staff in favor of the man I’m with.
We talked at length about how awful it can be for a woman or gender nonconforming individual walking into a record store. People make you feel like you don’t belong, men assume you’re shopping for someone else or you don’t know what you’re buying. Soni said it’s been so bad for her, that at times she just won’t even make eye contact at the counter when she’s buying records. As much as we both love music, our history with college radio (I was a DJ at Auburn University’s WEGL through my undergraduate and graduate years and most recently at Nashville’s WXNA until I moved), and our current involvement in the scene, we both agreed that we actually hate many, many record stores. All Day is an obvious and much welcomed exception.
“I think it’s pretty wild that one of the largest house and techno distributors in the United States is this crazy small store in Carrboro,” says Soni. “That’s probably the most special thing. It’s so wild. It’s essentially run by two enthusiasts. They think about what’s good, what’s listenable, and what’s good for the dance floor and really push that.” If you’re at All Day, or any All Day sanctioned event, you’re going to wind up dancing and having a great time.
Talking to Clauset, the true ethos of the business becomes more apparent. Not only have they made a place that they wanted to shop at, but they’ve made a place you should want to shop at. The store has a great comfy couch and staff is always willing to change out the record they’re listening to so you can test out the latest used new arrival. They’ll sell you the record right off the turntable — which many folks would claim is the mark of any good record store, but some stores play from a private, pricey owner’s-only collection the average shopper couldn’t afford. Not All Day; every record is accessible. Clauset says, “My favorite part is seeing people walk out of the store with good records in their hands. It feels good to be part of a healthy musical environment.” The Triangle area is home to labels like Yep Roc Records, Merge Records, indie distributor Redeye Worldwide, storied venues like Motorco, Durham’s Pinhook and Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle. With All Day Records firmly planted in the middle of it all, it makes the scene feel that much safer and makes me feel that much more welcome.
Up next, we travel to a record store in Oregon.
Kat Harding is a music publicist and writer who lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her loud kitty cat Goose. She often cries when excited at shows and can be found on twitter at @iwearaviators.