Sub Pop has never been afraid to zag when conventional wisdom says to zig. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that Seattle’s big-little indie label is opening its second brick-and-mortar store in the middle of a pandemic when online shopping is soaring.
On Monday, the revered record label, which helped launch some of Seattle’s biggest musical exports like Nirvana, Soundgarden and The Head and the Heart, opened the doors of its new flagship store in the Denny Triangle neighborhood near South Lake Union.
“We decided it would be a classically ass-backward thing for us to do to open up in the circumstances in which we do,” Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman said.
Formally dubbed Sub Pop on 7th, the new shop hawking records (duh) and Sub Pop-branded merchandise has taken over a former Glassybaby location at 2130 Seventh Ave., right in the heart of Amazonia. Actually, the small storefront sits at the foot of Amazon’s 37-story re:Invent tower. For now, hours are limited to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays (and, like all retail stores, is currently limited to 25% capacity under Gov. Jay Inslee’s pandemic recovery plan), though the hope is to expand as people return to offices and the economy incrementally reopens. The store will stock every release from Sub Pop and sister label Hardly Art currently in print, and parking is free with validation in the garages at 2121 Eighth Ave. and 2021 Seventh Ave.
Opening a second retail shop is something the storied label integral to Seattle’s grunge explosion and indie-folk boom in the 2000s had been kicking around since well before the pandemic. Following the success of its airport store at Sea-Tac, which opened in 2014, label brass had scouted spaces for another outpost that didn’t require a TSA screening to access. Settling on a neighborhood was tricky and it never quite worked out. But Poneman began to revisit the idea last fall, and eventually time came to pounce or pass on the former Glassybaby space.
“The recommitment to it is basically the idea that the music community is large in Seattle, and due to circumstances beyond our control, it is being underserved,” Poneman said. “Not as far as record stores go — we have great record stores in Seattle — but as destinations go. We just wanted to give our lives a vote of confidence by opening up this store at a time many people would probably find an odd time to do such a thing.”
After crunching the numbers, Poneman figured the store could withstand any short-term losses during the pandemic.
It’s tempting to look for a metaphor in Sub Pop — a cultural bastion of “old Seattle” whose black and white logo is as synonymous with the city as Shawn Kemp jerseys and slickered dudes chucking fish for tourists — setting up shop in tech mecca’s ground zero. Really though, it’s more a matter of practicality. It’s a central location that happens to be just a few blocks from Sub Pop’s Belltown offices.
Nevertheless, Sub Pop on 7th’s external sticker wall, where local bands are encouraged to slap their adhesive promo materials, should add a little rock ‘n’ roll color to the neighborhood’s glassy skyscrapers — think “the rock club bathroom [wall] for the Amazon set,” Poneman joked.
“It’s not lost on us where we’re located,” Poneman said. “But we’re much more interested in bringing people into town now and livening up the neighborhood and bringing some optimism back into the streets.”