Independent music is exactly what the name suggests: diverse, unconventional, and free-spirited.
Spokane has a small independent music scene but not a downtown record store to satisfy the needs of those restless souls who loathe stifling Wal-Martians.
An "indie" record store is not necessarily targeted at youth. You can unearth that rare Paul Robeson vinyl or the new Nelly. It is the place to find the soundtrack to your life, whether it be Rod Stewart or a didgeridoo record.
Would this great notion work downtown?
Currently there are two and a half record stores in Spokane: 4, 000 Holes (1502 N. Monroe), Unified Groove Merchants (2607 N. Monroe), and Boo Radley’s (232 N. Howard).
4, 000 Holes and Unified Groove Merchants both exist on north Monroe and have been supported throughout the years by customers with specific taste.
"I have never thought about moving downtown," says UGF owner Tony Brown. "The rent is higher and I don’t think it would make any difference to our sales."
Both are mom and pop shops. 4, 000 Holes is run by Bob Gallagher and Bob Gallagher alone. The store offers little else besides Beatlemania, but that is more than enough.
Boo Radley’s has a special collection of independent music on a corner wall, and is the solitary place to find tunes downtown. The shop profitably has toys and attention-grabbing items like those Boo left in the tree for Jem and Scout. That is the main attraction.
Boise, a town Spokane often compares itself to, has a thriving independent music store, The Record Exchange, which started from scratch.
But the comparison is misleading.
Indie-rock stalwarts Built to Spill, a band from Boise, have enjoyed mainstream success and are responsible for the awareness in the unusual. Their lyrics link the band to its location, often making detailed references to the Boise locale. Despite performing in sold-out festivals across the world, Built to Spill plays free concerts in the park annually and frequently visits the Boise State Student Union. That is something Spokane does not have going in its favor; local artists remain underground.
Another problem, according to Andy Dinnison, manager of Boo Radley’s is the "state of the music industry."
"People aren’t buying CD’s anymore," says Dinnison. "Most of the people who want this are the ones who don’t pay-they download and burn music. That is why Hastings sells more books and movies now."
The Spike Coffee House (122 S. Monroe) delivers many offbeat acts and has earned acclaim from Spokane7 as a "recommended nightspot." Their downtown location, and hipster observations of the people passing through, gives them an alternative portal to Spokane.
"It seems that people collect vinyl as a hobby because it is cheap and fun, but still download music because of high CD prices," laments Tommy Corrley, a barista and music booker at The Spike.
Of course, the exact spot is crucial. Corrley adds, "A record store would have to be located within 2nd Street, Spokane Falls Blvd., Browne, and Monroe. Do not consider anything outside those boundaries because people will not walk to it."
However, light always shines at the end of the gloomy tunnel, and because of the unforeseen success of Spokane’s Thin Air Radio (92.3 KYRS), the tide could turn.
"We are so hot right now," jokes Rose Johnson, Program Coordinator for Thin Air Radio. "People are slowly gaining an interest in independent music."
"Yeah, Thin Air Radio is the best thing to happen to the Spokane music scene in the last 10 years."
Thin Air is now sponsoring many local acts and is accountable for this shift with their signal expansion. The station’s David versus Goliath triumph is an indication towards the progression of a downtown record store.
If somebody with a good local perception builds it, and people do come, it will not only be a testament to the growing cultural mixture in Spokane, but also the popularity of "indie."
And with that we cue the music and listen for the didgeridoos.