The day the music died

The Glass Onion record store was one of the first places Adam Haney visited after an 11-year absence from Bainbridge Island.

A lot has changed, the 35-year-old said while perusing the sale racks, but at least his old record store is as it was when he left it.

Jeff Crawford is still at the register; ready to impart his best-album-of-the-year picks or slip his regulars loaner copies of rare recordings. Old vinyl records — the Beatles, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra — still crowd the walls, competing with flashy posters of new bands that come and go.

“I grew up on the island and used to come here,” Haney said. “I came back to the island four months ago. It’s kinda cool this place is still here.”

Still here, that is, until Saturday.

The Glass Onion, Kitsap County’s last independent record store, will close its doors for good at the end of the day, capping a 17-year life span that began in the era of Grunge on cassette tape and ended as more consumers sought the latest American Idol release on the Internet.

“I’m an endangered species,” said the bespectacled and ponytailed Crawford, who grew up on Bainbridge and started the store shortly after college. “I just thought Bainbridge wanted a record store. Turns out it did, until technology came along and changed the entire equation. With the Internet, iTunes, downloads and burners, I’ve become the third or fourth spot people go to get their music.”

The Glass Onion isn’t alone. Over the last five years, record stores — both big box and mom and pop — have rapidly disappeared from the retail landscape. According to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, an industry research organization, more than 3,100 music stores have closed since 2003. About half of the closures were independent shops like Glass Onion.

While Crawford watched record stores fold in Bremerton and Port Orchard, the Glass Onion staggered on thanks to committed customers.

“We’ve been blessed by that ‘buy from the local guy’ ethos,” he said. “That kept us going years longer than some of the friends I know who had record stores.”

But about five years ago, Glass Onion’s core customer — the teenage music fan with a disposable income — all but evaporated from the CD aisles.

“The kids started to fade away when enough people had DSL and CD burners,” Crawford said. “Our demographic started skewing to older people — the technological dinosaurs who like to own a disc and read the liner notes.”

Count Haney as one of the dinosaurs.

“I like the browsing aspect where you see things you normally wouldn’t, and you get turned on to different stuff,” he said. “You’re not sitting in front of a screen… you’re actually in it, surrounded in it. You know, it’s like if you want to go for a swim, you don’t take a bath.”

Haney and Crawford locked eyes and began riffing on the finer points of vinyl record packaging and the slow process of exploring a record, best done, Crawford said, over four or five repeated listens with friends, and while staring at the album art and lyrics sheet, Haney added.

“But I guess this is a sign of the times,” Haney said, looking over a store riddled with signs advertising massive markdowns and a going-out-of-business sale.

Crawford said he thought about holding on until the Christmas shopping season, which has lately become both the lifeblood of his business and an all-consuming force that pulls him away from his wife and son.

“I wanted to see Christmas through my 5-year-old son’s eyes, not through an exhausted retailers eyes,” he said. “And I didn’t want to go through all of it again knowing it was going to end.”

When asked what he’ll do next, Crawford stares into space for a while.

“I have no idea,” he said. “This is something you do because you love it, and not to get rich… but this has, apparently, become a career.”

“But I’ve had a hell of a run and I’ve had more fun than I’d ever imagined I’d have.”

LAST DAY
Bainbridge Island’s Glass Onion record store, at 400 Winslow Way, Suite 160, will close its doors at 6 p.m. Saturday. The store will continue to sell its backlog at its Web site, theglassonion.net, after it closes.