‘We Met Working at Olsson’s Books and Records’
Putting away a stack of records, Adriana Cordero saw a guy dressed like one of the Ramones. Then she realized he was a Ramone.
Working at Olsson’s Books and Records in the late 80s, Adriana and her future husband, Geordie Grindle, had a front-row seat to Georgetown’s punk rock scene. There, they fell in love with each other—and the music.
‘I was working with the computer systems there, and Adriana relocated from the Olsson’s in Alexandria,’ Geordie says. ‘She showed up and we saw each other in the office, and it was a workplace romance.’
A native Washingtonian, Geordie worked at Georgetown Theatre and frequently went to shows at the Bayou and Georgetown University’s WGTB station. A decade before meeting Adriana, he had gigs throughout the city with his band The Teen Idles, whose Minor Disturbance record launched the independent label Dischord Records.
‘There’s a place on the inside of each record where you can scrawl in a message, and on our first release, the one side says, ‘Wherever we may roam’ and the other side says ‘Georgetown is our home.’ That was way back in the day.’
By the time Geordie and Adriana met in 1989, The Teen Idles were no more, but Georgetown was a mid-Atlantic mecca for punk rock. (Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye infamously worked at Haagen-Dazs, years prior.)
Olsson’s was at the center of it all.
‘A lot of the employees were Bohemian, artistic—had a music background,’ Geordie says. It was an interesting time working there, and we saw a lot of famous people. Nick Cave came in, The Ramones shopped there, Gene Hackman stopped by.’
Geordie and Adriana say it was the staff’s knowledge and passion that made the place so beloved by Washingtonians, one of eight metro-area locations, at its peak.
‘They’d say, ‘If you like that, have you looked at this one?’ Geordie says. ‘It had a reputation for that. Book and music lovers worked there. Mark Robinson worked there when the band Unrest had just released a record, and he printed them up on plain white sleeves and was painting them every night, and bringing them in to sell every day. For a year, the album cover art kept changing for the same album. It was very clever. We met a lot of really neat, creative people.’
In between celebrity sightings and music movements, Geordie and Adriana experienced the less glamorous aspects of retail life—taking turns with other co-workers to move their cars every two hours.
‘I got to see a lot of Georgetown that way,’ Adriana says. ‘The little houses tucked away on Olive Street. I used to day dream about living in one of those places.’
They never moved to Georgetown, but found their way back eventually. After several years at Olsson’s, Adriana became a graphic designer and Geordie advanced in the software field, eventually working for AOL. They got married and moved to Brooklyn, later returning to Glover Park to care for Geordie’s mother.
‘We started to rediscover Georgetown,’ Geordie says. ‘It was fun to see how it changed.’
Despite nostalgia for the Georgetown of their youth, Geordie and Adriana say there’s so much more to do now. Their ‘perfect day’ is spent walking from their house to the Georgetown Waterfront—the site of their first kiss in 1989—followed by tea at Ching Ching Cha, a movie, pizza at Il Canale, window shopping in Cady’s Alley, and stops at Bridge Street Books, Take Care, and John Fluevog Shoes.
‘Georgetown was less populated, Waterfront Park was an empty, scary parking lot, and the restaurant scene hadn’t hit DC yet,’ Adriana says. ‘There used to be five places to eat back then. Today, there’s more dining, more shopping, and so many people out in every nook and cranny.’
The late 80s may have been a Georgetown heyday—but it wasn’t the neighborhood’s first, or the last.
‘It was a commercial port, and it had its Kennedy period,’ Adriana says. ‘A lot of people think that Georgetown is just stuffy rich people, but it’s not. It was also one of the birthplaces of punk rock. It was more of a blue collar place, and some of that is still here. When people dis Georgetown, I take it upon myself to say no, you’re not looking deep. There are tons of independents, and now Hill & Dale is doing their own music thing.’
One vestige of their shared past is Georgetown Tobacco, where Geordie and Adriana would buy their Three Castles Tobacco and Clove cigarettes, respectively. The shop is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the couple’s connection to music. Geordie plays in the band Boat Burning, and Adriana ‘fakes it’ on guitar for the occasional show.
‘Technically I can’t really play, but the (late) band’s founder, Andras Fekete, used to say, ‘It’s about your enthusiasm, not your talent. I like that because that’s the punk rock ethos.’