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The infamous lizard

With a bright green awning, crackly wooden shingles, a door fitted with bold yellow trim and a roof so low it would make Doc feel tall, Reptilian Records looks like a beach cabana that was swept away and transplanted into Fells Point's concrete landscape of bars, shops and houses of worship. Needless to say, it doesn't seem to belong. Perhaps this is fitting, because many of the store's patrons are those who take pride in their ability to stick out in a crowd.

The store, located at 403 S. Broadway St., has been in business for 14 years. Specializing in all things underground, all of the merchandise in the store hails from less-than mainstream musical genres like punk, hardcore, noise, emo, grind and garage.

Prior to Reptilian's arrival, there were no stores of its kind in Baltimore. Music-loving non-conformists in the Baltimore area had nowhere to turn to quench their appetite for the different and unconventional.

Luckily for them, their pied piper would soon be coming to town in the form of an amateur businessman and former record store employee.

Chris X, who attended Temple University in Philadelphia, realized that there was a void to be filled.

"Baltimore didn't have a store like this," he said. "It needed one."

And X took it upon himself to fill that void. After gaining knowledge of the financially strapped arena of independent record stores as an employee of Philadelphia's Chaos Records, X teamed with local comic book proprietors and opened Reptilian Records and Comics in October of 1989.

Fells Point seemed like the perfect area for the venture.

"When I was searching for locations, this seemed like a pretty cool area," X said. "It had a very New York, Bowery kind of feel to it. I thought it would be a good place for us."

X's hunch was right. Almost immediately, local kids would come into the store and sift through the records and comics. The two artful mediums seemed to be a perfect tandem for a store trying to establish itself within a community niche.

However, the comic book industry changed, and X felt it clashed with the type of business he wanted to run.

"After the first three years, I decided to buy them out," he said.

"It became a lot like the baseball card business," he said of the comic book industry. "People would come in and buy like fifteen copies of an issue. They would hoard it.

"I wanted no part of it."

He eventually bought out his partners and transformed the comic cases into record bins.

"I needed more room for music," he said.

Today, the only remnants of the comics that once peacefully coexisted with the music are scattered action figures and posters that are strewn about the store. Now, the Reptilian realm is all about the music.

"I was raised listening to rock music and that's all I've ever cared about," he said.

Though X does listen to some mainstream artists, the stores merchandise is predominantly made up of artists from non-major labels.

"We are 98 percent independent," X said. "We do not carry records put out by major labels. There's no Sony, Capitol or Atlantic bands here."

One of the labels that X does stock is Reptilian's own label, aptly titled Reptilian Records. The label was started in 1993 and has more than 75 releases. Bands on the label include The Dwarves, Supersuckers and Page 99.

X is constantly indulging himself in the local music scene in search of new artists.

"I go to a lot of shows around here," he said. "I go to shows three or five times a week."

But the Reptilian label is not limited to local bands. In fact, Reptilian has a national following among label executives and bands.

"We have bands from throughout the country," X said. In addition to national recognition for the label, X has also become an icon in the subculture he loves so much.

"People know me, people recognize me," he said.

But he's not famous.

"No, I'm infamous," he said.

Both the label and the store share equal importance in X's opinion.

"It's 50-50. They both help each other out," he said.

As for merchandise from other labels, X personally approves every piece of merchandise that Reptilian sells.

"I get to listen to a lot of good stuff," he said.

Furthermore, X said that he does not judge people who like other types of music, he just wishes more would actually be an active participant in the music scene.

"Whatever people choose to listen to it is fine," he said. "But more people should go out and see live music.

"F*** karaoke night."

As for business, the past 14 years have been filled with various peaks and pits.

Currently, X says that people are turning to their computers for music and are abandoning their local record store.

"A lot of people don't go out and buy music anymore," he said.

The world of online music is one that X feels strongly about, though he doesn't view it as a total positive or a complete negative.

"I have mixed feelings about it. It's great that you people can download music and get to hear their bands," he said. "But artists should be rewarded for their work.

"I just think of the new band that saves up all their pennies just to put out a demo and then their stuff is already online and they can't make money off of their music and they're broke and have to break up. It's kind of a shame, really."

X insists that in order to survive in the world of independent record stores, one must have their priorities in order. And he does.

"I'm in it for the music," he said. "If I was in it for the money I wouldn't be in it anymore.

"I have a shitty used car but I have a great record collection. And that is fine by me."

X admits that he has thought of packing up his 1985 Chevy Celebrity, along with his store.

"The neighborhood has changed," he said. "Recently, they've been trying to yuppify it and it's worked.

"It used to be filled with little shops and was a good place for shopping, but now it's a place for drinking."

But in the end, X knows that he will be in Fells Point for the foreseeable future

"After being here for so long, we're kind of entrenched," he said. "We stay because people know to find us here."

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Transcription of Interview - The infamous lizard