by Jake Uitti
It is no secret: the music business—especially when it comes to the physical printings of music—is on tenuous footing. As Justin Timberlake elucidated so clearly with his Sean Parker character in the 2010 movie The Social Network, no one wants to buy a Tower Records. And, more recently, as famed record producer Jimmy Iovine said, music streaming is “not a great business.” Yeesh! But, for Seattleites, there may be a new example to look to, a new hope: Georgetown Records. Recently, the humble store, co-owned and operated by Martin Imbach, extended its reach well beyond what it had previously thought possible.
The brick and mortar shop, which opened its doors in 2004, formed an international partnership with a former intern and now, suddenly, Georgetown Records has a franchise in Mexico City. “I met a friend some years ago when Sub Pop had their 25-year anniversary down here in Georgetown,” Imbach remembers. “She was from Mexico City and she’d taken a bus up here for the festival. I got to know her a little bit and she ended up spending the summer here as an intern, learning the record store. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to open her own store back home. She named it Georgetown Records. We just celebrated our one year anniversary there last month!”
To help stock the new Mexico location, Imbach says in August last year he personally drove a “truckload” of 1,200 records to his former intern who brought them to the “sister store” in perhaps the biggest city south of the border. “We’ve got two Georgetown Records now,” Imbach says. “And that’s just because a music fan came up to check out Seattle for Sub Pop and stuck around all summer. By now, we’ve had a lot of famous people stop by that store down there. It’s pretty cool.”
But the original Georgetown Records is no stranger to celebrities or international visitors, either. “Pearl Jam does come into the store,” Imbach admits. “They did a promo photo in front about ten years ago. And it’s been cool because people have traveled from all over the world to get their pictures taken in front of the place just for that reason.”
At the store’s core, though, more so than any celebrity encounter or intercontinental visitors, Georgetown Records is a neighborhood shop with neighborhood roots. “A couple of us,” Imbach recalls, “that lived in the neighborhood in Georgetown just thought it might be cool to have a record shop down here. There wasn’t much here when we opened in 2004—it was sort of an empty slate, with just one bar, one restaurant, and one coffee shop all in the same building.”
Seeing a need for the record store, Imbach, a lifelong record collector who had a job then doing administrative work at a local college, got together with his group, bought a few thousand records, and opened the doors. (He cannot remember if it was 6,000 records for $10,000 or 10,000 records for $6,000.) Regardless of the numbers, he says, “having the best product and doing the best thing with it is key to running the business—if word gets out that you’re not selling top quality, that will destroy you.” Noted.
Slowly, the business, which primarily sells vinyl, built itself from the ground-up. The pokey neighborhood of Georgetown grew around the shop, too: more businesses opened and more people moved into the new high-density apartment buildings. “Since 2010,” Imbach says, “the neighborhood has grown up into what you see now. And with every neighborhood in the south end, there’s a bit of a gentrification adjustment that’s happening—it’s a mixed blessing.” But the new clientele has not much changed what Imbach carries in the store. “Georgetown is a metal neighborhood, but our shop sells a little bit of everything—classic rock, punk, psychedelic, prog rock, international music, jazz, country, and soul,” he says.
None of this would have been possible, though, if Imbach and partners had not started, grown, and—in the lean years—sustained their business. They have done all that by being sources of conversation and musical insight in an age when so many music lovers have experienced only the impersonal, digital Amazon marketplace interface. “A record store can be a couple of things,” the shop owner explains. “You walk into a record store and are hopefully exposed to something you didn’t even think you were interested in. Also, in a record store, you can come in and share enthusiasm with other people—you can feel like you’re part of a community.”
He recalls purchasing collections from ethnomusicologists from the University of Washington—such as the whole set of Chinese opera or the entire Beatles catalogue. “People don’t think of Chinese opera as something they might listen to,” Imbach muses. “But when we play some on the speakers, people get into it.” And more than any record sale, Imbach says he enjoys being a part of the Georgetown music community—especially in his role as a shop owner. “I love when people from out of town stop in,” Imbach says. “Just being able to be talkative and friendly—you get to find out what people are into and what they’re doing. I love those interactions.”
Featured image: Yelp