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Deconstructing Easy Street: A Record Store on the Auction Block

The celebration was Friday, Jan. 18. That night, nearly a thousand music fans flocked to the Easy Street Records store in Lower Queen Anne to watch Yo La Tengo become the 527th and final act to play an in-store concert there. A few days before, owner Matt Vaughan had announced that the store would be closing after 12 years of operation.

Before the music started, Vaughan said a few words to the crowd about the recent success of the record store and the difficult decision he made to forgo a pricy new lease. The crowd grumbled about the Chase Bank that would soon occupy the space. Two former employees got engaged where they first met. People cheered. Then the band played and the crowd, beers in hand, took in one last show.

The reckoning was Sunday morning. As an Easy Street employee dismantled display shelves in the side-lot, using his foot and a hammer, a smaller crowd gathered inside. Instead of beer, the 200 in attendance held coffee cups. Instead of appreciating a final memory at the revered record store, they hoped to take a part of the store home with them. This was the public auction.

Some items from the Lower Queen Anne store were shipped to the flagship Easy Street in West Seattle, but more than 900 individual items remained, all tagged with bid numbers. Number 38: a poster of Donavon Frankenreiter, signed, “Thank you so much for a beautiful day…. #1 ALBUM STORE IN THE WORLD.” Numbers 44, 45 and 46: three payphones converted into listening stations. Number 105: the doublewide sliding garage door that revealed the in-store stage.

“We’ve never done an auction before,” Vaughan announced to the crowd before handing the mic to the auctioneer. “We’re used to building stores, so this is a little different.”

Item number one, a promotional poster for Pearl Jam’s Live at Easy Street album, warmed things up. “Sold! For $300.” Item number two, a Neil Young poster, fetched $25. Number three, a poster display rack, $150. As the movie Empire Records played on the in-store televisions, bidding went quickly. Item 19, a male mannequin, $25. Item 28, a signed Elliott Smith poster, $190. Item 41, a Vampire Weekend gold record, $450.

Item 50A was a late entry. Vaughan brought out a framed photo and was handed the microphone. “This is a photograph of Kurt Cobain from 1991, taken by Charles Peterson. I don’t want to auction this off…. I need at least $500.”

He handed the mic back to the auctioneer. “There’s a personal note on the back from Peterson,” she said, trying to gin up some sentiment. “It says that you are good in difficult times….”

“This isn’t a difficult time,” Vaughan responded as he walked away. “This is a celebration!”

“Sold! For $700.”

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