No one knows what the landscape for music lovers will look like in the post-COVID-19 era, but one longtime Seattle landmark is definitely going away.
Bop Street Records, shuttered since the governor’s March 23 stay-at-home order, will close its doors permanently at the end of June. Bop Street has been a fixture on the Seattle music scene since 1979, and in 2011 was picked by The Wall Street Journal as one of the five best record stores in America.
“I don’t want to say I’m being driven out of business,” said Dave Voorhees, who will continue to sell records from his home after his store closes. “But my lease expires at the end of June and because of the coronavirus, we decided to not extend the lease.”
Voorhees, 70, had planned to retire in five years. He considers himself lucky that the pandemic hit just in time for him to change his mind. Much of his revenue comes from out-of-state and foreign buyers who depend on airline travel, which has dried up.
“The timing was totally fortuitous,” he said.
Voorhees estimates that the store’s chockablock bins hold half a million recordings of rock, R&B, jazz, classical, country and other musical genres — an inventory his business manager, Bob Jacobs, values at $3 million. About 200,000 of those records are vintage 45 RPM singles, many extremely rare.
“About a month ago,” Voorhees said, “a guy called and said, ‘Hey, my mom won this contest where she got to meet Elvis Presley back in 1957, and the radio station also gave her a thousand 45’s. Are you interested?”
When Voorhees unpacked his purchase, he discovered he owned, among other treasures, two mint copies of “Bop Crazy Baby,” by early rockabilly artist Vern Pullens – each valued at $800-$1200.
Bop Street takes its name from a 1956 song by another early rock pioneer, Gene Vincent, a reflection of Voorhees’ passion for early rock’n’roll. He got his start selling records out of his parents’ basement in 1974, after buying 3,000 45’s for a dime each from a Texas jukebox distributor. Five years later he opened the first Bop Street, on Aurora and 101st in what is now the Oak Tree Village Shopping Center. He has been in Ballard since 1984 and at his current location on Northwest Market since 2010.
Voorhees plans to take home only 20,000 discs for his new wholesale operation. Disposing of the rest of the inventory will be a challenge. He and Jacobs are currently negotiating sales with dealers and store-owners and plan to donate the store’s 25,000 78’s to Goodwill or other nonprofits. Jacobs said some recordings may be stored in private homes if they cannot be sold promptly.
“I’m hoping I can reopen the store between now and the end of June and that I can sell as many records as I can to people,” said Voorhees. “I refuse to put them in the dump.”
And if he can’t reopen?
“I actually have no idea,” said Voorhees. “If I’m not able to sell these, it’s 40 years of business and I’m walking away with no money. This was supposed to be my retirement.”