Chase Bank had no presence in Seattle until JPMorgan Chase purchased a liquidated Washington Mutual in 2008 for somewhere around $2 billion. That was a steep discount as WaMu’s deposits totaled tens of billions of dollars. After buying the collapsed bank for pennies on the dollar, it didn’t do much to endear itself to the local community when it quickly announced it would no longer underwrite Fourth of July fireworks on Lake Union, an annual tradition where WaMu was the primary sponsor. A book about WaMu’s collapse quoted JPMorgan Chase chairman, president and CEO Jamie Dimon as saying, when JP Morgan Chase declined to continue WaMu’s support of the Seattle Art Museum, “Are you fucking stupid? Why the fuck would I do that? I will honor whatever we legally have to honor. Are you going to tell me that Bill Gates doesn’t have enough money to support the museum?”
It should surprise exactly no one that it’s a Chase Bank branch that will be moving into the space currently occupied by Easy Street Records on Lower Queen Anne in mid-January. The corporation had no interest in being a part of this (or any, really) local community and instead moved into the market on the cheap when much of the banking system was struggling for solvency.
In a post on the Easy Street Records’ website Wednesday morning, owner Matt Vaughan wrote of being priced out the space by the landlord who knew he could extract higher rents from a commercial bank with deep(er) pockets. That happened less than two weeks after Mayor Mike McGinn declared December 20 “Easy Street Records Day.”
This shouldn’t come too much of a shock as great retail stores across the country have already had similar fates. According to an illuminating story in the Village Voice, the New York video store Mondo Kim’s was a casualty to the economy and was forced to ship its first-rate video collection to some village in Italy that hadn’t yet done anything with it after a few years. The convenience of Spotify and Netflix makes never having to buy music or go to a video store possible. More locally, the Queen Anne neighborhood already lost a great used bookstore a few months ago. I love the convenience and never want to give it up, now that the technology makes it possible, and I suspect a lot of others do, too.
Yet, a large number of people lashed out at Sonic Boom owner Jason Hughes when he was forced to clarify comments he made about having to close his Capitol Hill location when Capitol Hill residents took umbrage when he told the Seattle Weekly, “Capitol Hill is not a viable neighborhood for a record store anymore.”
I’m very sad to see Easy Street Records leave Queen Anne. As one who lives on Queen Anne, I can tell you that the neighborhood absolutely does not need one more Chase Bank branch. Above my bed is a small collection of framed, signed albums, most of which I had gotten at that LQA Easy Street and I have always tried to spend money in that store, and it was where I spent several hours waiting to meet Lana Del Rey. It’s my favorite record in the world.
Vaughan says that the West Seattle location has a lease for 15 years and one hopes will stay in business long enough to sign another long-term lease.
But what makes this so depressing is that having a great record store in your community and having the convenience of being able to listen to any song you want at any moment are becoming mutually exclusive. It is a sad reality that record stores can’t stay in business when most of us like the convenience of not having to purchase music. I’m as guilty as anyone for taking advantage of streaming services like Rdio and Netflix. It isn’t something we should feel remorse over for too long: the technology isn’t going away and it will take something catastrophic to change universal habits based on convenience we as consumers demand. The consequences of these conveniences probably require more introspection.
There are a lot of things the Internet can’t replace that Easy Street does, like its in-stores (which have included rock and/or roll legends like Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Lou Reed). I even purchased a lot of vinyl records at Easy Street without actually owning a record player. Coincidentally, an in-store with Yo La Tengo is scheduled for its last day on January 18. I always found stuff there that I didn’t know I wanted until seeing it on the shelves, even with their on-hand stock not being the same as it once was.
It would be difficult for even people at Chase Bank to argue that Lower Queen Anne is better served by a Chase branch in place of a great record store, but what is so depressing is that this is the reality the free market demands from its most strict adherents for capitalism to run as planned.