As Seattle rocks Record Store Day, Europe mourns shuttered stores

Indoor gigs bring alternative bands to spotlight. The Abjects performed in a London record store in 2015. (Photo from Flickr by Paul Hudson)
Indoor gigs bring alternative bands to spotlight. The Abjects performed in a London record store in 2015. (Photo from Flickr by Paul Hudson)

The busiest day of the year for most Seattle record dealers is right around the corner.

Record Store Day, a celebration of independent music stores from all around the world, is happening again this Saturday. Organized every April since 2008, the event brings together store owners, music nerds and even gigantic rock bands like Metallica — this year’s official Record Store Day ambassador.

Nine years after its establishment, Record Store Day has spread from the US to every continent, with participating stores in places like Brazil, Israel and Hong Kong.Record Store Day co-founder Carrie Colliton reveals that the original plan was not quite that ambitious.

“We were a little naive at first — we only wanted to get the U.S. record stores to celebrate together,” the Spokane native remembers. “But it turned out that people from all the world round wanted to participate in what we were creating!”

With 26 participating stores, Seattle seems to be especially thrilled about the big day.

But the local trend is opposite to what’s happening in Europe. In Finland, where I’m from, only 16 record stores in the whole country are taking part in Record Store Day — simply because there aren’t too many stores left to celebrate. A handful of the most important music stores have shut down within the last ten years. 

A famous one, the Helsinki-based Stupido Shop, had to close its doors for good in 2014, after 19 long years in music business. Aleksi Pahkala, the store manager, explains what happened via e-mail.

Streaming services such as Spotify killed the CD sales completely. Vinyl records became more and more popular, but that was not enough,” he recalls. “Record Store Day was always a perfect day for us, but ordinary days were pretty awful.”

In Britain, the same had happened earlier already. As Laura Roberts writes in The Telegraph, nearly three quarters of all independent music stores closed down during the first decade of the 21st century.

So how are Northwest stores still thriving? Is there something special about the Seattle scene?

“Pacific Northwest is a great place to celebrate Record Store Day. From The Sonics to the grunge movement, there have always been really good music cultures, and the city still has its fair share of record stores,” Colliton says.

Sonic Boom Records in Ballard has taken part in the annual celebrations since the very first Record Store Day. They say it is a great way to both multiply the sales and have a good time with customers.

“We’re looking forward to a busy, crazy day. Our back room is already full of record boxes because of the Record Store Day special releases,” says Matt Welles, the store manager.

According to Welles, the music market is splitting into two. Many prefer streaming their music digitally and don’t bother going to record stores anymore. But there are also the vinyl lovers – and those folks keep the Seattle record stores alive.

As Hugh McIntyre points out in Forbes, sales of vinyl records in the United States grew by 30 percent last year. The same trend has been going on for a while now. 2015 marked the tenth consecutive year of considerable growth in vinyl sales.

”It is true that CD sales have really gone down, but vinyl sales are getting bigger and bigger,” Welles explains. ”There are a lot of vinyl people in Seattle, and we sell more and more each year.”

But why would anybody want to spend their money on rather impractical pieces of wax when streaming music is so handy? Carrie Colliton is happy to explain.

“The record store gives you the opportunity to buy emotions on a black vinyl or on a little silver disc. That’s what music is all about, after all.”