Yesterday I spoke with one more record-store owner, Easy Street's Matt Vaughan, in the wake of the news that Sonic Boom's Capitol Hill location would be shutting its doors this fall and Jason Hughes' assessment of the Capitol Hill neighborhood as a less-than-ideal location for a profitable record store. Here's what Vaughan had to say about Sonic Boom and how his own stores are doing:
What are your thoughts on a record store's viability in Capitol Hill?
Vaughan: Capitol Hill's a legendary record-store neighborhood, going back to the mid-'80s. There's been a lot of great record stores over the years there, most notably Fallout and Orpheum, from the mid-'80s through the '90s. Those were stores that helped define a neighborhood and a scene. I can't imagine the early grunge scene without Fallout, and I can't imagine the post-modern scene or the dance scene without Orpheum. And those were synonymous with Capitol Hill.
Today it's just difficult to consider the notion that a good record store could transform or improve on a neighborhood, just because if you haven't been there for a while, planted in the neighborhood, it's hard to gain momentum. You almost have to have a legendary name or footprint in that community for years. It's kind of got to be the place that your older brother went, or that your parents even went to.
Doesn't Sonic Boom have that brand recognition, though? What do you think went wrong for them?
Those that were on 15th [Sonic Boom Capitol Hill's previous location] that had become loyal customers maybe felt a little disheartened by losing them originally and didn't want to make the hike down and back up to go visit them. Also I think the parking over there on Melrose is really tough.What do you think about Jason's assessment of the Capitol Hill demographic being more interested in spending money on nightlife than music? Do you agree with that?
I was brought up on Capitol Hill as a kid. You really have to be a Capitol Hillbilly to know every street on Capitol Hill. It's just become so big and there's so many neighborhoods within Capitol Hill. There's a lot of socioeconomic differences within those neighborhoods too. If he's specifically talking about Melrose and that area of Capitol Hill, I don't know. I can't say I know that to be true. The fact is, there's just not a lot of retail up there anymore. And the retail that is there, on Broadway mainly, doesn't seem to have a vision, collectively.
Did it used to be different when you were growing up there?
Oh God, yeah. I sure think so. I think through the '80s and '90s, Broadway is where you did your Christmas shopping.
So what's changed since then?
Well, I'm going to have to put it on the landlords. I don't think there's been a vision to how retail can be the subsistence that can breathe life into the neighborhoods in the daytime. You know, nighttime, different story. It's going to be bars and restaurants. But in the daytime there needs to be great retail, to mix it up throughout the day. And maybe it's overpriced up there. I don't know. I haven't looked at a location up there in a long time.
Have you considered opening a Capitol Hill location for Easy Street?
The main reason I didn't was because Sonic Boom was there. Sonic Boom have been friends of mine for years, before they even opened their store, they worked for me for a couple years. That's how they got their start. I kind of had to let them do their own thing. At the same time, now there's Everyday. My guess is that they've done better business than Sonic Boom and were probably a bigger threat than they'd want to admit. They've got a great location, being next to Elliott Bay. And Oddfellows and Vita around the corner, and the Comet. You've got some great, legendary independent storefronts there.
Do you think Everyday's better location gave them the advantage over Sonic Boom?
Well, if it was up to me, I'd certainly pick the one next to Elliott Bay.
How are your stores doing?
It's certainly a tough time. It doesn't come as a surprise, to hear this about Sonic Boom. But at the same time, there were more record stores that opened in 2010 than closed. So there is a change upon us, nationally. [Record Store Day's] been a shot in the arm for all of us. Vinyl is beyond just being a craze now. It is a legitimate business.
And used CDs, I mean, it's not anything I'm going to promote, I'm not running Weekly ads talking about my used, because it's not very sexy, but it is where the profits are. It's what can help in bringing down prices on your new products and have good sale prices, which we continue to do. If we didn't have used to play off, we wouldn't be able to do that for our customers. And used vinyl is becoming more and more of our business. It always has been, it's how I started my store 24 years ago. It's an area where you gain a lot of profit. But at the same time, they take up a lot of space, and you've got to know the history of every genre where music has ever been recorded on. So you've got to have some smart vinyl folks working for you.
Are you confident that you'll be able to keep both of your locations open?
The days of having a big record store in Seattle may be over. There's just still too many record stores with all of us here. But I don't really know how to do anything else. I started this store when I was 18. I'll get my kicking boots on and get my brass knuckles out.