In an unlikely development, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is now home to a Sub Pop Records “brick and mortar” retail store. The location opened on May 1 and can be found within Concourse C, past the security checks, which means you won’t be able to see the store in person unless you are arriving or departing from Seattle on a flight. The spacious location sells compact discs, a hefty selection of vinyl, music-related books, Sub Pop-branded shirts and bags, stickers and postcards. You may preview music at a listening station, and the store also has a variety of high-end headphones and earbuds for sale.
In addition to music, there is also an emphasis on items catering to the average traveler, who may or may not have an interest in Sub Pop and its history as an important grunge/indie label. As detailed in a Stereogum article, the store sells, for example, Sub Pop-branded neck pillows, flasks, canvas luggage, whole bean coffee (roasted by Lighthouse Coffee in Fremont) and Theo Chocolate. Sub Pop has long had an interest in marketing itself apart from music, and rightly so. Nothing says Seattle more than a Sub Pop t-shirt or bag, and the name/brand itself has a “cool” factor that goes well beyond the actual music released by the label.
If it seems strange that a new Sub Pop store is opening, at an international airport no less, it’s because it is strange. A blog posting from Nordstrom gives a more complete history of Sub Pop’s retail stores. The original Sub Pop Mega Mart was located downtown on 2nd Avenue in the Belltown neighborhood, next door to the Moore Hotel. That location closed down in the year 2000, at which point the store moved to a presumably smaller location in Pike Place Market. It’s unclear when exactly that location closed (perhaps the mid-2000’s?). Then, in July of 2013 a pop-up store opened in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, intended only to operate before and during Sub Pop’s 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee on July 13 of that year.
In other words, Seattle hasn’t had a proper “brick and mortar” Sub Pop store for at least 5 years, and probably more like 10 years. Record stores in general have been closing with regularity for the last 10 years, although there has been some renewed interest in the vinyl format, due in part to the yearly Record Store Day releases and events. No matter how you slice it, it’s a huge risk opening a new record store in 2014, and we’ll see if this experiment is successful.
The airport location has an initial 18-month lease and needs to abide by standard airport store rules dictating they stay open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. Do people want to buy records at 6:00 am? With the increasing popularity of digital music, will record stores go away completely in the coming years? That’s one of many challenges that the new location may have to contend with. The store’s long-term survival seems far from guaranteed.
Yet on a recent flight from Sea-Tac, sales seemed to be brisk. I ended up buying two postcards, a refrigerator magnet and The Vaselines’ Enter The Vaselines 2-cd collection. If you want to see the store succeed, if you are a music lover, if you are someone who cares about unique and local culture, be sure to check out the Sub Pop Airport Store on your next flight to or from Seattle. Every sale counts. If this store succeeds, it could be one small step in ensuring the survival of retail record stores for years to come.
On a final note, here are five classic CD grunge releases available for purchase at the store. If you know someone at all interested in grunge music, any of the following would make a great gift.
- Nirvana – Bleach 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (2009). By far the most famous Sub Pop release, the release that introduced Nirvana to the world. Re-mastered by original producer Jack Endino, with a bonus live concert from the same era.
- Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp (2013). Compilation of two EP’s covering the early years of Soundgarden. Re-mastered by original producer Jack Endino, with the inclusion of the Sub Pop 200 compilation track “Sub Pop Rock City”.
- Green River – Dry As A Bone/Rehab Doll (1990). Compilation featuring the EP Dry As A Bone and the full-length release Rehab Doll. Green River can be considered the first “superstar” grunge band, although they are now largely forgotten. Featuring members of what would later become Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, this deserves to be in any grunge fan’s collection.
- Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff Deluxe Edition (2008). The noisy, garage side to grunge, Mudhoney was initially THE band to watch in Seattle, only to be overshadowed by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. This must-have collection is re-mastered and features two live shows as a bonus.
- Various Artists – Sub Pop 200 (1995). This compilation, originally released in 1988, features a who’s who of grunge notables, along with lesser known bands. Features early songs from Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Tad, Green River and Screaming Trees.
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