Late last month, Bop Street Records announced they would be closing after 40 years as a Seattle institution. (In 2011, the long-running shop was declared one of the five best record stores in America by The Wall Street Journal.) Owner Dave Voorhees had planned to retire in five years anyway, but the state’s stay-home order has accelerated his departure. “I don’t want to say I’m being driven out of business,” Voorhees told The Seattle Times. “But my lease expires at the end of June and because of the coronavirus, we decided to not extend the lease.”
Sadly, it's a fate that many independent businesses across the nation are facing as they struggle to make rent and cover costs following two months with no income.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee announced he is extending the stay-home order through May 31, and he presented the Safe Start reopening plan, a four-phase effort for resuming recreational, social, and business activities. In Phase One, non-essential retail establishments have been given the green light for curbside pick-ups and e-commerce; June 1st has been tentatively marked as the beginning of Phase Two when in-store purchases can resume.
If you've been wondering how you can support local mom-and-pop record stores, KEXP went right to the source and asked the stores themselves: What can we do to help? What do you have planned for the future? And, what album would you recommend to customers right now? See their replies below.
(And note: the image to the right is from a t-shirt that Dualtone Music Group — in partnership with ThinkIndie, Magnolia Record Club, and WEA/ADA Distribution — has released to help raise funds for independent record stores. 100% of the net proceeds from shirt sales will go back to independent retail. More info here.)
"Down the alley from Winslow Way and up a short flight of stairs" (as they describe it) stands Backstreet Beat, featuring both vinyl and used books. The charming store is worth the trek for Seattleites. Owner Raymond Gendreau tells us, "On the record side of things, we sell about 85% vintage stock with some new reissues and a handful of new release items. Being just across the water from Seattle, we have a good number of regular Seattle customers as well as the Bainbridge locals."
"Some of the locals have purchased gift cards to help out, but I have been mostly taking this time to go through the tens of thousand of accumulated stock in storage to figure out what is worth keeping and what to discard. I have been putting a number of items on eBay since it is a good outlet for LPs, books, and other pop culture items all in one place."
"My wife and I (yes, it is a true Mom & Pop store) plan to open when we are allowed. We most likely will require masks and have hand sanitation available. It is a small space and I want customers to feel comfortable as well as protecting my wife and I. We won't have any other employees to be concerned about, which makes it simple."
"As an old fart, I tend to recommend recording artists from the past to my customers. I have been listening a lot lately to Stephen Stills, both solo work and groups like Manassas, a lot of classic jazz by Lee Morgan on Blue Note, and contemplative piano jazz by Bill Evans, Ray Bryant and Steve Kuhn. Before this all came down, I touted Orville Peck's Pony LP (on our local Sub Pop label). I sold many of his LPs off the turntable in the shop. It would be my new release recommendation."
Black Market Skates, our old neighbors near Dexter and Denny, have relocated further up Aurora, near Green Lake. Not only do they sell skateboards, trucks, wheels, accessories, and protective gear, but they sell the music to soundtrack your tricks. Owner Kyle Minahan shared their current processes.
"Locals may buy anything we sell in the store on our website blackmarketskates.com and choose to have it shipped for free or pick it up curbside. It saves us shipping costs if you pick it up, which you can do Mon-Sat 11 AM-3 PM. Give us a call at the shop and we’ll leave it curbside, no contact."
"We definitely want to follow Inslee’s recommendations, just waiting on some solid guidance."
"Our buddy Jensen at Iron Lung Records usually has the best new releases of worldwide punk and hardcore. Check out Screaming Fist, Alien Nose Job, Physique, and a lot more. On the latest record haul, we brought in classic albums in hip hop, blues, be-bop, new wave, metal, you name it, we got a wide selection!"
Chances are, you've seen the Easy Street Records van out on the streets of Seattle lately. Owner Matt Vaughan was quick to adapt to selling records in the quarantine age, personally delivering online and phone orders with contact-free dropoffs throughout King County. The retail store is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily for curbside pick-up, and their attached cafe is offering takeout/pickup from 9 AM to 12 PM daily, with delivery in West Seattle only. (And, of course, you can buy worldwide from their website and get something shipped to you.)
Not only are they keeping us one nation under a groove, but if you're spending the stay-at-home order cleaning out your basement, they can help you out with that, too, by picking up your pre-loved records, CDs, DVDs, and cassettes. As they explain online, what they can't use, they donate to local charity Lifelong Thrift Store. (Just call or email if you have some stuff to donate.)
As Vaughan points out on his website: "American small business is responsible for 49.2% of private employment in the US. Please do one thing everyday to support a small business during this crisis."
Georgetown Records specializes in used vinyl in a wide array of genres: you'll find everything from punk to country to world music in their plywood bins, repurposed from old Vespa delivery crates. Manager/Owner Martin Imbach tells us, they're not doing curbside service at this time, but they are planning a grand reopening (along with Fantagraphics) on the weekend of Saturday, June 6th and Sunday, June 7th. He adds, "As far as music recommendations, Bohren & der Club of Gore was good when lockdown started, but now The Groundhogs are hitting the spot! But as long as people just remember to buy vinyl, it’s all gonna work out."
Hi-Voltage Records is a record-picker's dream: they claim to have over 40,000 LPs and CDs in stock, and the store is surprisingly well organized for that volume of merchandise.
Owner Brian Kenney tells us, during this lockdown, they are there from 10AM to 5PM everyday. "We're here during those times for curbside pickup. Our entire new vinyl inventory is listed on our website as well as some of our used inventory. We are offering free shipping in the US or or you can choose the "pickup in store" option when checking out for curbside pickup. You can order online or call us 253-627-4278 and order over the phone for pickup." (Note: their website is as well organized as their physical store!)
"This part is keeping me up at night," he admits. "We are putting up plexi shields around the counter to help protect staff. Separating work areas as much as we can to continue to keep proper distancing. All employees will wear masks. Initially we will only allow so many people in the store at a time and ask that everyone wear a mask. This is gonna be a difficult proposition for some, I'm afraid. We will be constantly santizing all surfaces."
Grant Green - Born To Be Blue. This is part of the Blue Note Tone Poet audiophile reissues. For a new release, have to say the new Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels LP.
This gem of new and used vinyl has been keeping the Fremont neighborhood rockin' for nearly 20 years. While the store is still temporarily closed for the time being, they have begun offering curbside pickup from 12 PM to 5 PM daily (cards only), and offering free shipping in Washington. Call or email with your requests.
Manager/Curator Brad Tilbe tells us that right now: "The best way to support us is to shop online, on both Discogs and eBay. We are also doing special orders. All LITA label and distribution titles are available online per usual. For special orders, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We just started offering curbside pick-up for Seattle and surrounding areas with the assistance of La Marzocco at the Gathering Space."
"Our main concern is safety for our customers and staff. We will rely on the Governor and state health officials to advise on retail reopening and defer to KEXP regarding their decisions on the Gathering Space."
"An 'older' release I'd recommend would be Ordo Ad Chao by Mayhem. It’s unlike any of their other albums in that, to me, it does not follow the traditional Black Metal formula they are known for. This LP in my opinion is more avant-garde & experimental, with a totally different production style than previous releases. My favorite track off of the album is called 'Wall Of Water'."
Nestled away in the Ravenna neighborhood is M & L Records & Models, one of Seattle's best-kept-secrets if you're looking for jazz, rock, soul, and classical music (as well as plastic scale model kits of cars, planes, tanks, and more!). Owner Lelan Kuhlmann tells us he's currently "paying rent at a loss, but I need to store my huge stock of LPs somewhere." For the time being, you can find some of their merchandise over on eBay.
When they eventually re-open, Kuhlmann plans to "lock my door, customers with masks could be allowed in a few at a time. Jack-booted thugs, automatic-weapons-toting re-opener wear-no-maskers types will not be allowed in."
Porchlight is more than just a record store. It's a coffee shop and a record label! Is there anything owner Zack Bolotin can't do?
"Luckily for us, we’re both a coffee and record shop. We’ve been open through this whole thing, so we love to see our customers in person when they're are feeling comfortable enough to venture out. For those that don’t want to or can’t leave the house, we have an online shop at porchlightcoffee.com where we sell our merch and releases from our label. We stock all sorts of records in the shop, but the only ones in our online store are from our own label. We released Tomo Nakayama’s Melonday on vinyl this April and despite the pandemic, we’re almost sold out of the first pressing, largely due to KEXP playing songs from the record on-air (THANK YOU!)." [ed. note: no, thank YOU!]
"Throughout all of this, we’ve had a little sanitation station set up with hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, and paper towels to help everyone stay healthy. We aren’t requiring our customers to wear masks or gloves, but to just be aware of their surroundings, sanitize their hands before browsing records, and stand six feet apart from one another."
The easy recommendation is Melonday by Tomo Nakayama. It really is such a wonderful spring pop album. I usually recommend it for fans of Washed Out and Chromatics, but it really appeals to so many different folks, it’s a heartfelt, dance-inducing pop album.
This South Seattle behemoth of used and new vinyl (plus, CDs, DVDs, and so much more) is currently offering free shipping on online orders over $30.00. Orders by phone are being accepted from 10 AM to 3 PM daily with free shipping for orders over $50.00 (pre-tax). You can also check out their merch on both Discogs and the Amazon Marketplace.
The situation at Ballard's beloved Sonic Boom Records is unique in that owner Mike Pitts was diagnosed with the coronavirus himself. "I was diagnosed with Covid in March," he tells us, "so I am probably a but more timid about opening than I might otherwise be."
"We are 100% closed. All of our fulfillment is done at the store, so shipping isn’t an option. I decided to keep my staff at home until we are ready to open properly."
"I’ve made the decision to open on June 12th. I will be running the store by myself initially. We will follow the governors guidelines, whatever those may be. As of now, I would see us requiring customers to wear masks."
"I am excited to open. I miss my staff and our customers. We’re going to come out of this just fine."
"I’ve had Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on repeat for a couple of weeks. No idea why. Feels really good right now. When doesn’t it?"
Located smack-dab on Broadway on Capitol Hill, Spin Cycle has been an institution since 2011 for new and used music, plus video games and consoles, cassette tapes, and DVDs.
"We're doing online sales via Discogs. We can special order nearly anything, and we're doing curbside service. Lastly, the store is participating in the Good In Seattle delivery service, featuring dozens of other small business across Seattle."
"We will be opening the shop to a limited number of visitors. We will at least be heeding Gov. Inslee's recommendations, including likely requiring masks."
"Right now, I'm feeling very nostalgic for the artists we've lost through all this: John Prine, Bill Withers, Tony Allen and Little Richard, R.I.P"
Since 2012, Vortex Music and Movies has been keeping the Eastside stocked in new and used vinyl, plus Blu-Ray, DVDs, CDs, LaserDiscs, and more. Owner Daren Compton tells us they're doing limited business curbside and selling merch via their Amazon Storefront. While they don't have a firm re-opening date yet, he says "when we do, we will limit customers and offer masks." As for recommended music, Compton leaves it up to the listener. "Music is therapy as a mood enhancer — explore music of your youth which takes you back to those innocent moments."
On Friday, May 1st, Bandcamp will yet again waive their revenue share on all purchases for 24 hours, in a gesture of support to all the artists who've been impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns. KEXP's Digital Content Team has rounded up some of the things we'll be adding to our carts today.
The annual event has been rescheduled with "properly distanced release dates" on Saturdays in August, September, and October.