While you read this story, listen to a playlist of Armadillo Music staff favorites and artists that came up during the interview by clicking here
Before Armadillo Music opens on a Saturday morning, the Chapman boys, ages 5 and 3, are playing with stuffed snakes. Owen and Quentin run around bins of records and CDs in the month-old space, two doors down from its original F Street storefront where they grew up in Armadillo onesies.
The boys’ parents, Athena and Josh Chapman, co-own Davis’ last-man-standing music shop. Josh runs the day-to-day, Athena helps with the long-term planning, working full-time for the California Association of Health Plans. They took over Armadillo after Athena’s father and store founder, Michael Krell, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack.
“He had always had a love of music and live music and a huge collection of CDs and records, so music was always part of the family dynamic,” Athena said.
Krell opened the store in 1996, replacing Recycle Records. Rumor has it he named it Armadillo because he wanted an animal mascot, and he wanted to be at the front of the phone book.
Athena remembers him outside the store, sitting behind a card table buying tapes, CDs and vinyl from passers-by. She was 15.
“Well, besides thinking my parents were crazy, it was really one of my dad’s passions,” she said. “He listened to everything. He listened to Social Distortion, I remember my parents dressing up for Social Distortion and embarrassing me as a teenager.”
The store weathered the digital boom, surviving on customer loyalty even as other music stores moved in, then closed down.
After Krell’s death in 2008, his wife, Helen, fought to keep the store open while running her own private practice in psychiatry.
“We remember saying, ‘You’ve just got to close it,’ but we didn’t want to,” Athena said. “She just really wanted to keep it going as much as she could.”
So Josh and Athena packed up their bags and moved north, home.
“We wanted to keep this atmosphere here, we want people to have a place to come buy music and listen to music and experience it,” Josh said.
That’s the heart of Armadillo’s mission: make a store into a home. For music lovers, for local bands, for new and used CDs, vinyls, tapes. A home for the staff, like Paul Wilbur, who has worked at Armadillo since it opened (except for two years at an insurance company — “As my daughter said, it was like the insurance company had taken my soul,” he said), and Dylan and Laura Warner, who helped run the store for years. Dylan gave the eulogy at Krell’s funeral.
“They’re all just considered part of the family,” Athena said.
Armadillo Music is one of many retailers in Davis who are part of the Shop Davis campaign. Why shop Davis? Sales taxes help pay for infrastructure, schools and city services; local business owners support local charities and causes; convenience; jobs; creating a city brand helps grow tourism and attract other businesses; and it’s eco-friendly.
Earlier this year, six years after Krell’s death, nestware closed and Armadillo jumped at the opportunity to fill the larger space occupied by the Davis gift shop.
“The interaction between a customer and a product wasn’t the best (at the old store),” Josh said. “There would be six people browsing and it felt like it was full.”
Compared to the old place, the new store feels huge, modern and cool, with its sleek gray walls, chalkboard border, and bins and bins of physical music in a time when it has almost become a novelty. Records from Thin Lizzy to Superchunk decorate the walls from bin to ceiling, along with posters, shirts and portraits of musicians painted by a local artist.
The Chapmans opened the upstairs to used books and their 99-cent record collection, and the store has a dedicated stage, reserved for a family of stuffed armadillos when bands aren’t playing.
The move has helped Armadillo showcase its vinyl, whose resurgence has helped bolster the store’s sales.
“It’s so funny to watch somebody who is 65 and they’ll unload a pile of records and say ‘I don’t want them anymore, I’m done,’ ” Josh enacted. “And right behind them is this college kid and they say ‘Oh, I want to buy that.’ Because it’s a Doors record.”
“There was definitely a period of time when that dynamic was lost,” he added. “It’s such a cool medium to experience music, and to be able to provide that to a community — it’s fun to step back and watch people interact with it.”
Looking for some new music? How about these albums, recommended by Paul Wilbur and Josh Chapman
“Why I Sing the Blues,” B.B. King
“Love at First Sting,” Scorpions
“It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” Public Enemy
“Endtroducing,” DJ Shadow
“Stardust,” Willie Nelson
“London Calling,” The Clash
“Blue & Sentimental,” Ike Quebec
“Rebirth,” Jimmy Cliff
“Ill Communication,” Beastie Boys