When Dave Voorhees, owner of Seattle’s Bop Street Records, announced last month that the store was closing at the end of June in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to sell his enormous collection of 500,000 recordings, sales he had hoped would fund his retirement.
This past Sunday, Voorhees stopped worrying. A San Francisco nonprofit called the Internet Archive agreed to purchase the entire collection, sight unseen.
Bop Street business manager Bob Jacobs said the exact purchase price will not be settled until the archive has sifted through the collection, but the buyer has already sent a preliminary check and signed a contract.
At the end of the day, said Jacobs, “Dave is going to have a healthy, six-figure down payment on his retirement.”
Bop Street Records opened in 1979 and has been in Ballard since 1984. In 2011, it was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the five best record stores in America.
Though “six figures” is a far cry from the $3 million value Jacobs put on the store’s collection last month, Voorhees said he was relieved.
“It’s not as much as I hoped for,” he said, “but in this environment, it’s as good an offer as could happen.”
It’s also quite unusual, in that the Internet Archive is not another record store or collector looking to turn a profit, but a library that intends to digitize the recordings and put them online, where they can be streamed for free. Founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle, who pioneered internet publishing before the advent of the World Wide Web, the Internet Archive is a nonprofit library of free books, movies, software, music and websites that, according to its homepage, has already archived 4.5 million audio recordings, 20 million books and 330 billion web pages.
In a phone interview confirming the sale, Kahle said the goal of his organization is “to build the Library of Alexandria for the digital age,” referring to the library in ancient Egypt that famously burned down.
Kahle has a particular interest in obscure recordings, he said. “High school marching bands, soundtracks for foreign movies you’ve never heard of — those are just treasures.”
The diversity and quality of the Bop Street inventory, which includes more than 100 albums by jazz pianist Fats Waller as well as a healthy selection of classical music, rock, R&B, jazz, country and other musical genres, was exactly the kind of thing the Internet Archive is on the lookout for, Kahle said.
He discovered the Bop Street collection was for sale through the Internet Archive’s head of IT, Jonah Edwards, who had previously lived in Seattle and shopped at the store. Another former Seattleite, Tonya Mosley, also helped spread the word by posting a story last week on National Public Radio.
Jacobs said Bop Street has received a steady stream of calls from all over the world since the story broke.
“I’ve even seen the article translated into French and Spanish,” he said.
But for Jacobs and Voorhees, life is still pretty much the same. Every day, they go into the store and box up records.
“The first load of 44 tons will be ready next Tuesday,” said Jacobs.