Just before 7 p.m. last Friday, Jan. 18, owner Matt Vaughan took to the stage at Easy Street Records’ Queen Anne location (20 Mercer St.) to commemorate the iconic Seattle store’s last day.
“This comes heartfelt from all of us here, that none of this could have ever been possible without you guys,” Vaughan said to a packed audience, as tears trickled down general manager Morgan Chosnyk’s face.
Joined by his employees, Vaughan briefly spoke before indie rock band Yo La Tengo performed Easy Street’s final in-store show. Meanwhile, eager customers rifled through vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, clothes and more.
One faithful customer, Phil Tapia, said he’d been shopping at Easy Street since he was 16.
“I’m pretty depressed [the store is closing],” Tapia said. “I buy all my vinyl here.… They have everything I’m looking for.”
Other customers had similar feelings as Tapia, including Maddie Hayes.
Hayes, who used to come to Easy Street’s Queen Anne store about once a month, enjoyed the used vinyl and CD selection the store offered, as well as the atmosphere.
“I really like the vibe.… It’s really chill,” Hayes said. “My best memories here are just spending an hour or two with coffee, looking through the used vinyl.… It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon.”
Kurt Delaney, who has worked at Easy Street for seven years, spent part of Friday evening outside the store, surveying the hundreds of CDs displayed on the sidewalk. He described the record shop as a community space where he felt at home.
“I came to work here quite by accident,” Delaney said. “I got my BA (bachelor’s of arts degree) and was going to take a break between getting my Ph.D. (doctorate degree), but I liked the job so much, I kept, it so I’ve been here ever since.”
Now that the Queen Anne location is shutting down, Delaney isn’t sure of what he will tackle next.
“I have a few irons in the fire.… I’m juggling my options,” he said. “I’m definitely going to do some volunteering and some DJ-ing for an independent radio.”
Delaney will also release some cassettes for an indie label he is starting, called Alterity 101. According to his blog, Alterity 101 is a “label, distro and blog dedicated to underground experimental music.”
A ‘little break’
Easy Street Records’ original store — still operating — is in West Seattle (4559 California Ave. S.W.).
Vaughan first came up with the idea to open a record store when he was a sophomore at Seattle University after struggling with two part-time jobs. He was only 19.
“I guess I just had enough energy and felt like I was part of the music scene enough… and had enough enthusiasm for it to create a retail environment in West Seattle,” he said.
Vaughan opened the Queen Anne location in 2002 on a 10-year lease. The decision was made to close the store when the landlord wanted another long-term lease, as well as an increased rent. Combined with what Vaughan called “the current economic landscape of retail” in a Jan. 2 blog post, the Easy Street crew came to the consensus that continuing to lease the space would be “risky.”
Chase Bank is the location’s new tenant.
As for a potential new location, Vaughan said that thinking about opening another store anytime soon would be like going from the frying pan into the fire.
“I’m going to take a little break for now and work on my West Seattle store again,” Vaughan said.
Guests of honor
Throughout the years, Easy Street Records has been known for hosting local and national musical artists in what they call “in-stores,” free performances for the public. These have included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lana Del Rey and Band of Horses.
Vaughan recounted Macklemore — whose actual name is Ben Haggerty — and Ryan Lewis’ performance as a store highlight.
“We had known Ben for a while, back when he would just consign tapes through the store,” Vaughan said. “And years later, here he is, on top of our roof, and a month after that, he is a platinum-selling artist.”
Delaney also mentioned Macklemore’s performance as one of his favorites, as well as the in-store performance by Swedish pop star Robyn in 2010.
“[She] performed to a small audience as though there were 30,000 people there,” Delaney said. “[She] put her all into it.”
Yo La Tengo, from Hoboken, N.J., were the unofficial guests of honor on Friday. The store, which was already being broken down amid the frenzy of customers, was packed to full capacity nearly a half-hour before Yo La Tengo was set to perform.
By 7 p.m., lines stretched out the door both ways, down Mercer Street and all the way down First Avenue toward Roy Street. People crowded around the store’s front doors, standing on benches trying to get a peek inside.
Robby Miller and Michael Press were among the hordes waiting in line. Miller, who heard that Yo La Tengo would be the final in-store performance, looked up some of the band’s songs on YouTube and liked what she heard.
“It kind of sounds a little Carlos Santana with Gomez.… It’s like a blend between them,” Miller said, adding “[They have] drums like Gotye.”
A last reunion
Miller and Press agreed that they were sad to see the store close. “It’s just been around for so long,” Miller said. “You walk inside and it’s like the epitome of what Seattle looks like, with posters on the wall and plywood CD racks.”
As for the new tenant that has taken Easy Street’s location, Press had strong feelings about Chase Bank.
“It’s just like the worst thing you could do [to the neighborhood],” he said.
Yo La Tengo felt the gravity of Easy Street’s last day, as well.
“We’ll play a little lullaby for everybody here [and] for Easy Street,” guitarist Ira Kaplan said to the audience before performing the final song.
And although the mood was bittersweet, Delaney was thrilled to see the hundreds of people who turned out.
“I’m ecstatic,” Delaney said. “It’s an extended family, and they’re all here at once. We’re sharing many, many hugs and photographs.”
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