The Rolling Stone called it one of the Best Stores In America. Spin called it the 5th best record store around (original link has been taken down, but trust.) It’s one of Mike V’s (me) three best record stores in America. And I’m clearly much more important than both the Rolling Stone and Spin. So there’s that.
Sonic Boom – or “The Boom” as absolutely no one calls it – is a Seattle Rock City institution. Talk to anyone from the great northwest and they’ll inevitably have a cockle-warming story about co-owners Jason or Nabil, or the sadly departed (from the job, not the mortal coil) Melanie or one of the many knuckleheads (See also: Jon Treneff, Gabe Spierer, Matt Olsen) that have come from the confines of Sonic Boom and all of their sagelike rock and roll wisdom. I spoke with co-head Boomer Jason Hughes – who is arguably my favorite person in the record business – about some stuff. That stuff is below.
1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Sonic Boom Records is a relatively small neighborhood store, about 2200 square feet, that curates its inventory carefully. The store has been around since 1997 (15 years in September) and, at times, we had up to 3 locations. My business partner Nabil (ED: Current head of 4AD, Nabil Ayers) and I started in the bottom of a house in Fremont with about 600 s.f., very little money and our own collections to fill the used up. We moved Fremont to a bigger store down the street in 2000, opened in Ballard in 2001, opened a store on Capitol Hill in 2003, closed Fremont in 2008, moved Capitol Hill in 2009 and, subsequently, closed that store in 2011. Phew. We now have just 1 store location in Ballard. We carry new and used CD’s and vinyl, music accessories, headphones, toys, magazines, books and some guitar stuff.
2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I wanted a raise and a little respect. I was working at another store. I was also working at 2 local radio stations which made it a no brainer.
3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Twist & Shout, Shake It, Waterloo.
4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We still try and carry some catalog but it’s mostly new releases and used that sells for us. Used LP’s have really been picking up which is good since the margins are way better. Overall it’s been a belt tightening few years but we’re still here.
5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Cost/inventory control, good employees, used sales, good community relations and customer service.
6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
New Pornographers midnight sale/in-store. MIA in-store. Actually lots of great in-stores: Death Cab for Cutie, Shins, Superchunk, Stephen Malkmus, Stars, Iron & Wine. We also did custom silk screening on site for Record Store Day and our Interpol signing.
7. Why do we need record stores?
If we all buy online, what’s the point of getting out of bed? (ED: How else would we get tacos?) Human interaction is important. I can’t tell you how many customers met their significant others here at Sonic Boom. We’re a meeting place, a social hub and a destination for good music. Who doesn’t need all that? All great neighborhoods should have a good record store, books store and retail core.
8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Carne Asada, San Diego style.
9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Diiv, Chromatics, Bob Mould and Divine Fits.
10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I love being surprised by a new favorite band and I like my current group of employees. I’d probably like to meet Otis Redding, not that you asked.
11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
I’d like to expand our vinyl and still be around in 10 years.