In January, vinyl collector and business owner Ken Tomkins moved into a space at the north end of the avenue that would soon become Seattle Records, a store specializing in vinyl and multilingual books.
With only a fraction of the students living on campus in the 2020-21 school year and the continuing digitization of so many aspects of life, businesses in District U were suffering. However, aided by the recent vinyl revival and a massive inventory collection, Tomkins took to the Avenue in search of a space that would stimulate community coming together.
Prior to opening the storefront, Tomkins sold records and books online through e-commerce sites like Amazon. Among his concerns were the isolation and high costs associated with online sales. After six years, Tomkins made the transition to a physical store, hoping to create a space that could serve as a hangout instead of just a retail store.
“It’s good to have physical seats,” said Tomkins. “People need physical reality, not just online. “
When Tomkins first got the space, he used it as an office, then eventually turned it into a display case. Initially, the store was only open on Saturdays during the University District Farmers Market, but after receiving positive feedback from the community, it chose to expand even further.
On October 19, the store moved to a larger space on the avenue to accommodate their growing inventory. The store offers assorted vinyls, CDs, cassettes, multilingual books, clothing, record material and collectibles. In the new space, Tomkins plans to increase the store’s clothing count, which begins with printing Seattle Records t-shirts and tote bags.
The store specializes in used records, which allows it to have a unique selection at hand and easily coexist with other retailers in the neighborhood. Seattle Records is the third largest record store in the U District, joining Neptune Music Co. and Al’s Music, Video, & Games.
Hans Fluegel, co-owner of the brand new Royal Records, also noted the resurgence of physical records.
“In the last 10 to 15 years vinyl has come back and it keeps coming back,” said Fluegel. “We haven’t reached a peak yet.
With vinyl sales still on the rise and in-store performance picking up, new record stores like these are benefiting from the increased demand.
While their old space was only built to accommodate small DJ performances, Seattle Records’ new setup is conducive to hosting larger events. Tomkins motioned to an open space behind shelves of clothes.
“We want to let people know that the space is available for collaborations,” Tomkins said. “They can sing here, read poetry here, [do] comedy.”
Just as the store carries a variety of products, it also hopes to facilitate a variety of events and performances. Tentative plans include art lessons for kids, chess lessons hosted by the store owner, and in-store performances by local bands, DJs and comedians.
The old space sported a sober exterior, but the new and improved makes the store hard to miss. The storefront is a deep yellow covered in electric blue doodles of make-up characters, completing the fence at the Shiga Community Garden across the street.
The Art Outside the Store was a collaborative effort led and performed by Seattle Records musician and employee Ben Root. He orchestrated the store painting and made sure it was a community event. Root pointed out different characters on the wall and their inspirations: a drawing of a ghost recommended by a friend, a frog from a colleague, and a character inspired by sketches of a child who had stopped by the store.
With its prime location in the heart of the U-District, Seattle Records hopes to meet the needs of a student body. Tomkins is helped by his two full-time employees, Root and Katrin Kjeell, a vinyl collector and currently in fourth year at UW.
“I think this has the potential to be one of the most inclusive and comprehensive creative spaces in the city,” said Root. “Especially since we are right next to the UW.
Although the Seattle Records team is small, it demonstrates a commitment to the store’s future.
“We really value the customer experience and want people to have great music,” said Kjeell. “I can’t wait to see this place blossom. “
This sense of community with other retailers, combined with a passionate staff, a massive vinyl collection and a series of upcoming events, heralds a bright future for the new U District gathering place.
Contact contributing writer Caroline Carr at [email protected] Twitter: @carolinejcarr
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