When I moved from Austin to Seattle, I was concerned about whether the music stores in Seattle could compare to Waterloo Records. What I’ve since discovered is collectively, the best Seattle record shops equal, and in some ways surpass, Waterloo.
Seattle has a lot of music shops, but the four that get mentioned the most are Easy Street Records, Sonic Boom Records, Everyday Music and Silver Platters.
I have my own preferences, but each have their individual strengths. I mention classical music in these reviews because a store that sweats the details of its classical section usually takes care good care of the rest of the store.
Easy Street Records
In terms of square footage, stock and overall feel, I would say Easy Street Records on Mercer St. and 1st Avenue is the most analogous store to Waterloo in Austin or Amoeba in San Francisco. I knew I would like the place when I saw modern classical music separated from the common period. In the rock section, local and regional artists get a different-colored placards. Another plus is air-conditioning. Most places in Seattle don’t have A/C because it’s really not needed during the very temperate summer months. But there are a few days out of the year where that lack of A/C gets mighty inconvenient even for someone who has lived through triple-digit heat (admittedly with A/C.)
Update: The Queen Anne location of Easy Street closed on Jan. 18, 2013, squeezed out by high rent. The West Seattle store is still open, and I have yet to visit that location.
Silver Platters on 5th Avenue and Valley St. was the former location of a Tower Records, and remnants of that legacy remain. In fact, the classical music section uses Tower’s system of organization. It’s there in the placards. A lot of the stock in the popular music section is used, but given the square footage of the place, it means you might find something that’s been long out of print and probably not remembered by anyone but you. I was also impressed by the Asian music portion of the World Music section. Someone on staff actually knows enough Japanese to file some of the pop acts correctly. I took a trip to Canada and couldn’t find a store that sold a recording by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, but I come back to Seattle, and there it is at Silver Platters.
Update: Similar to Easy Street, Silver Platters is also being squeezed out of Queen Anne. The store reopens in SoDo near the Starbucks headquarters in June 2013. I went from three nearby record stores to one.
Everyday Music is an Oregon chain, but it’s also the store to which I can get easily by foot. The Capitol Hill location on 10th Avenue has about the same square footage of Cheapo Discs in Austin (which will close at the end of 2012.) Everyday Music stocks a smattering of unopened releases, but its main emphasis is on used CDs. Everyday Music gives more bin space to classical music, although it doesn’t separate the modern releases from the common period. During the summer, the store lifts up its garage door entrance, giving the interior a very different feel.
Sonic Boom Records
Sonic Boom is my least visited store due to distance. It’s located in Ballard, whereas Easy Street, Silver Platters and Everyday Music are located within two miles of my apartment in Capitol Hill. The square footage is slightly smaller than Easy Street, and the classical section is very basic. I can’t say there’s enough to compel me to take a 45-minute bus ride to visit often, but if you live in Ballard and don’t want to trek to the outskirts of downtown Seattle, Sonic Boom should be your first stop. The stock is comparable to Easy Street, and it’s a nice, intimate space.
Yes, it’s a bookstore, but the upper level has a CD section for J-pop junkies such as myself. Compared to the San Francisco and New York stores, the stock in the Seattle store feels a bit musty, and the vertical shelving isn’t very conducive to browsing. If your taste in J-pop sticks mainly to popular artists such as Hamasaki Ayumi or Utada Hikaru, the Seattle Kinokuniya might be sufficient. My tastes are decidedly more indie, so it’s not a place to go for NUMBER GIRL or MO’SOME TONEBENDER. But Kinokuniya does take special orders, which is how I got ZAZEN BOYS’ Stories.