Capitol Hill no longer ‘viable,’ Sonic Boom leaving Melrose Market

In an interview explaining his decision to shutter the Sonic Boom location in Melrose Market, SB’s Jason Hughes tells Seattle Weekly that people on Capitol Hill don’t have money to spend on music because they’re spending all their money on beer:

So you’re just going to focus on the Ballard location? I’m definitely not moving. Capitol Hill is not a viable neighborhood for a record store anymore.

Why do you say that? I’m not going to say exactly why, because it would just irritate a bunch of people, but basically I don’t think anybody up on Capitol Hill has the discretionary money to spend on music. I think they spend it all on food and booze and entertainment. The Ballard demographic is a little bit older, they still buy CDs. CD sales in Ballard are more than twice what they are in Capitol Hill. And the store’s smaller. And vinyl sales up here are pretty good, but it’s not good enough to cover the enormous amount of rent we pay up here.

And sandwiches, too.

In a press release, Sonic Boom announced it will shutter its Melrose store this fall just over one year since re-opening in the Market after a move from 15th Ave E. 2010 ended with Hughes’ wife Tes De Luna abruptly closing down her Velouria boutique neighboring the new Sonic Boom location. When we learned that Taylor Shellfish was planning to replace the boutique with a store and chowder bar, we joked that Sonic Boom had better watch out for bakeries sniffing around its Melrose Market suite. No sign of a new bakery. Yet.

In the meantime, there are still places to buy music on Capitol Hill — in addition to via the Internet. Everyday Music has settled into its new space next to Elliott Bay Book Co while Wall of Sound operates on E Pine and has made space for new roomie Spine and Crown books. In the specialty category, Zion’s Gate and Platinum Records continue on E Pike and The second-hand business, of course, also continues. Latest player to join that scene is Spin Cycle on Broadway.


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39 thoughts on “Capitol Hill no longer ‘viable,’ Sonic Boom leaving Melrose Market

  1. I love being able to pop in to Sonic Boom to pick up something on vinyl after hitting up melrose market. Sonic Boom will be sorely missed!

  2. wow, i’d finally gotten used to not being able to walk to Sonic Boom and now they are closing? So sorry to see them go, I’ve missed having them on 15th, love going in to shop for music and buy low fee tickets. I won’t be driving to Ballard to shop there, though.

    The other music options of Everyday (meh) Wall of Sound (love) aren’t the same and we’ve really lost out now. Hope you all enjoy your beers, I’ll be missing Sonic Boom

  3. Sorry to hear this – Sonic Boom is my favorite record store on the Hill. I have to admit, though that the new location was a hard adjustment. There’s nothing else down there that interests me, whereas on 15th I could combine errands. And it’s just a more pleasant walk (although I think it’s further from me than the current location). I wonder how business this past year has compared with the previous shop.

    I guess I’ll have to learn to love Everyday Music, sigh.

  4. As much as I’d like to be upset about this, I’m just too drunk on Pabst or Rainier tall boys, or whatever cheap swill Jason claims I’ve spent my discretionary money on, to really care.

  5. Yeah, it’s got to be the beer. Couldn’t possibly be something more obvious, like younger people buying their music digitally…

  6. Good Luck in Ballard maybe you can find a table at a local pancake Breakfast to sell your vinyl. Nice stero typical comments about the neighborhood who supported you the last however many years. JERK!

  7. It’s ‘stereotypical,’ not ‘stereo typical.’ If you are going to insult someone, at least get your grammar right when you do.

  8. I read this post while listening to music on Amazon MP3 cloud player.

    I really don’t understand people’s attachment to vinyl. And I don’t understand why Sonic Boom is complaining there’s not enough demand for their business. That really shouldn’t be surprising when you’re in a declining market should it?

    There are at least two generations of people now who don’t even know what a record player is, and have never owned a CD player.
    Also, he’s wrong when he says Capitol Hill doesn’t spend discretionary money on music. I spend tons of money on music, but it goes to concert venues (Neumos, Chop Suey, Comet) and Amazon MP3. His business model is what’s no longer viable.

  9. And you are completely wrong about ANY generation not knowing what a record player is.

    Why would I want to own a book when I can just rent one from Amazon? Why would I want to actually own records when I can just upload them to a remote server somewhere?

    Oh, I don’t know, maybe I want to actually feel ATTACHED to something. The vinyl market is increasing, sir.

  10. So you’re saying you think there’s no generation that doesn’t know what a record player is? Even people born in the 90s? They may know what it is, but only as an abstract concept. I doubt they’ve ever used one, and to them it’s the same category as typewriters and VHS players.

    Comparing digital music to digital books is not a fair comparison. Music is audio content, books are text/visual.

    Ok, so maybe the vinyl market is increasing (got any references?), all I’m saying is if that’s true I don’t understand why. Having a CD or vinyl that I can’t conveniently carry with me wherever I go wouldn’t make me feel more attached to the music. Seeing bands live makes me feel more attached to them however.

  11. Selling media content (books, videos, records)is a tough road to hoe these days. the way we as consumers purchase content entertainment has changed in the last few years with lightning speed. Being a retailer in this day and age eans making hard, sometimes heartbreaking choices every day.

    I’m sad to see Sonic Boom leave the Hill. They added diversity to the mix and every commercial district needs good retail to be neighbors to good food and drink.

    I wish them the best in their Ballard location. If there’s a Hill store that you’d miss show the love by spending some dollars there.

  12. So you made the choice to open your record store in a specific area that’s especially known for bars/restaurants and then you criticize the locals for spending their money at bars/restaurants? What the fuck?

  13. Sad to read this. These quotes are over the top insulting, immature and unprofessional. Way to leave showing your true colors in what the hill stores and people have meant to you. Smart gameplan…be a hip local shop and insult the coolest scene in town? I’m done going to the Ballard location when I’m there now too.

    What a whining, classless dick. You won’t be missed….Peace out. biz

  14. If the vinyl market is supposedly increasing, you’d expect sales to be pretty good at his new location. If they’re not, it could only be prohibitive costs, or bad management. Whether it’s one or the other, it seems his decision to call it quits is a good one. And if the market isn’t increasing– well, it’s still a good decision.

  15. I had only read the quotes and not the release thanking peeps so feels not as bad. In the end business is business I guess. Still interesting thing to say I thought…

  16. Way to kick the independent business in the nuts while its on the outs. Let’s give Jason a break. He’s going through a shit time after giving over tens years of hard work to provide Seattle with one of the best independent businesses in the country. Sonic Boom, Jason Hughes, and Nabil Ayers (former owner) were and will continue on in Ballard as enterprising, passionate business men who laid it all on the line many times throughout the last 10+ years to provide Seattle with not just a great place to buy music, but a great place for all-ages to see free shows, learn from a knowledgeable staff, shop in a dynamic and diverse store, and maybe bump into a local or visiting celebrity. All of you haters who are taking what Jason told the press as criticism of C-Hill are missing the point and not taking into account what the man is going through. Bad PR? It’s a fucking record store! This is a time to think of the employees that will be displaced and the void that will be left when that awesome vinyl selection is gone.

  17. As someone who use to spend hundreds of dollars at the old location on 15th, but never set foot in the new location, I’m a little offended by the broad generalizations about Capitol Hill. It all goes back to location, location, location. The store ended up in a food market, so, yeah, it probably leads to the perception that people in Capitol Hill are into food. Moving to what (I assume) was a higher rent, lower visibility retail spot doesn’t seem like the best decision, especially when you factor in moving and build out costs. I was very sad to see the 15th Ave location go, but I don’t think all the blame about the failure of the new location just on the neighborhood, the location just wasn’t conducive to (non-food) retail.

  18. Yeah I kind of know what he means.

    Reading this blog, 50% or more of what I see are announcements of new eating or drinking venues.

    Outdoor night markets, closed or brand new restaurants, cafes and bars.

    You’d think all we do here is eat and drink.

    There’s all the many donut shops, wine tastings, hot dogs, tacos, sushi, burgers, wings, butchers and boutique cheese shops, promotions and happy hours. Wow! I mean it’s great and all, but some of us do more than go out to eat or drink or party.

    So yes, I need to move to a less “happening” place at some point. Where they have, um, a hardware store?

    The guy has a point you have to admit.

  19. I think he definitely has a point about Capitol Hill. Almost every new business on the hill in the last several years has been a restaurant or bar. There is not much retail variety here compared to neighborhoods like Ballard. As much as I like food and drink, it does make Capitol Hill less interesting.

  20. Why should I give you (a physical music store) my money? I can buy music from Amazon or Apple and get it with far less hassle then stopping by a local music store and for less money to boot. Unless you’re providing more value than just the objects in your store you’re going to be put out of business by better competitors, regardless of where you’re at.

    Eventually more and more of your clientele will figure out how to buy music online, or stream it or some device will come out making it even easier than it is today to get music cheaply. The world doesn’t owe anyone a living, most of all middlemen who depend on poorly informed consumers in an environment when information is so readily available and the producers of the content aren’t giving you a monopoly to distribute their content.

    tl;dr Job 0 of any brick and motor store is being better than the Internet.

  21. Hughes specifically says he doesn’t want to offend people on the Hill in his answer. Then makes the pretty logical point that people on the Hill buy other things with their money, rent is high here, and he sells more CDs in Ballard. He seems plenty aware that the market for physical media is mostly dead, but that’s what he does, so he’s finding the niche he can still survive in.

    He didn’t say people on the Hill are a bunch of assholes, so why all the huffiness in the comments? I’m guessing the indignation brigade here couldn’t be bothered to read beyond the headline, before working themselves into a huff.

    Times change. I’m thankful for the proximity to the store in years past, and wish him well with the future.

  22. who the fuck talks about the most popular neighborhood in the city like this. i spent over $100 on jimi hendrix records one night and had an unenthusiastic customer service experience. maybe if you guys had a building that wasnt hidden you would have business.

  23. Drunken slackers don’t have the funds to buy CDs? Hey, they’re grateful their barista gigs pay for the suds.

    Yeah, the place is a dump and Broadway’s smile reveals more and more “missing teeth” as stores close right and left.

    But the nightlife is thriving. *hic*

  24. I’m not surprised that Sonic Boom is closing. Don’t just sell vinyl for the sake of selling vinyl. You have to offer a selection that appeals to the people who spend an entire afternoon sifting through records and end up purchasing vinyl by the arm full. I walked into Sonic Boom numerous times with money to burn, and found nothing I wanted to buy. Platinum and Zion’s Gate understand who their selling to, and Sonic Boom did not. Jason’s bitter comment about the neighborhood substantiates the disconnect he had with the record spinning people of The Hill.

  25. indeed, there are a lot of bars and restaurants – capitol hill is one of the nation’s most dense and walkable neighborhoods, so food and drink are a necessity and a convenience. ballard is full of single family homes and people who drive – the quality of their bars and restaurants is far below what is available on the hill – and on the weekends ballard is full of 425 folk. capitol hill has a much more exciting restaurant/nightlife scene and it’s only getting better – eight embrace it or move to ballard.

    also, not all new businesses are food related. several art galleries, fitness centers, and creative spaces have opened up as well – there are even two of the seattle’s newest public parks – take a walk around my friend – it’s a great neighborhood.

  26. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars there but have always found the new location inconvenient. They’re barely even within Capitol Hill in that spot, tucked away near the convention center. Bauhaus seems to do well but they’re in a more visible area on Pike. It wouldn’t surprise me if a large percentage of hill residents couldn’t tell you where this sonic boom is located.

  27. @Makes no sense I couldn’t agree more. Capitol Hill is a big neighborhood and there simply isn’t enough foot traffic from shoppers around the Melrose Market area. The 15th Ave location was great, you could stop by on your way to running other errands. Sorry, I’m just not going to walk 20 blocks out of my way (past Everyday Music and at least two other CD stores) to get all the way down to Sonic Boom.

  28. I too used to spend a lot of dough at the 15th Ave. East location – I had a Sunday afternoon ritual of walking down and buying stuff, and I really miss that location.

    Unfortunately, booze seems to be recession proof. But I have no idea who can afford to eat out every night at all of those fancy new restaurants!

  29. you don’t sound bitter or anything. he never said anything about “cheap swill” just that people on the hill have different priorities than buying music. way to sound like a bigger dick than Jason did.

  30. Nobody’s saying it isn’t a great place to live.

    The person who said everyone in Ballard drives a car is dead wrong. I know for a fact many use Burke Gilman on bikes to get to work, etc.

    I don’t like to eat out, it costs a lot and the food is often not very healthy.

    45 choices of different food and places to get drunk available on a given evening is impressive, but after you eat out a couple nights a week, then what? Wouldn’t you like some other kinds of shops than just restaurants and bars?

    Pacific Hardware is great as far as they go, but they are not a complete store by modern standards.

    I like it here and I’ve lived on the hill for 25 years, but gallery hopping, wine tasting, happy hours, it gets old after a while and sometimes one misses just a few of the things they have in other neighborhoods, some of the more practical services and stores that can’t afford to do business here.

  31. The Melrose Sonic Boom is my absolute favorite music store to shop at. I average about once a week popping in and grabbing a few CD’s (I’m an old skool child of the 90’s). Sucks to see this is the way it had to be. Music has become a commodity which is terrible. Art, expression, story-telling, and personal enlightenment through song should not come to price wars, but alas we find the digital world crashing in on local propsperity and a place to feel connected to the music you love. The internet will never truly replace that feeling. If it does, we are all screwed.