Meredith and Brian Kenney are no strangers to people who question their business decisions. They’ve heard it all before and – so far, at least – have always managed to prove naysayers wrong.
About 17 years ago, the married couple opened Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma, a new and used record store originally located about a block from the corner of Sixth Avenue and South Anderson Street. , where he now resides. Brian was a rock guitarist known in the area for his 90s band Lazy Susan. Meredith had an accounting background. Together they decided to combine their passions and talents into a business that succeeded where many others failed.
Now they’re starting over, this time with a bookstore.
In the year 2021.
“It’s all I own is books and records and guitars,” said Brian Kenney, 58, behind the counter at Hi-Voltage, which recently doubled its retail space and launched a selection approximately 2,600 new titles. “On paper, you could say it’s a bit crazy. But when I opened the record store in 2005, the record stores were dying everyday. I always knew that wasn’t true, and there would always be a market for (records). That’s what I believed in, so I sort of went with what I believe in. … Same thing with books. I always wanted to have a bookstore.
“You can download anything, and you can buy anything online, but people feel when they walk into the record store, just like the same when you walk into a bookstore,” Kenney continued. . “It’s kind of what we do.”
Walk in high tension these days Is feel different. To your right, the store’s extensive vinyl collection is still waiting for customers to pass through, but to the left, a growing inventory of books makes the store a destination for the whole family. This is the kind of place where a guy like me – a middle-aged man with an affinity for a lot of things that may seem outdated, like aging Seattle rock bands and words printed on paper – could easily go to. a rainy afternoon.
But the inescapable economic question persists: will it work?
Tacoma is already home to a small stable of beloved bookstores – like King’s and Park Avenue Books – but there’s no doubt that getting into physical commerce in the age of Amazon and shopping online takes a leap of faith.
Last week, Meredith Kenney said she was confident. After a nearby soap and pottery store closed earlier this year, the Kenneys knew they could use the extra square footage, she said. Soon after, they agreed on a business plan that included books. The expanded store – which also sells t-shirts, posters and DVDs – opened on Black Friday.
Meredith Kenney said she was particularly excited about the store’s selection of children’s books and believes the record store’s existing customer base will naturally continue. If people like vinyl, she suggested, there’s a good chance they like hardback books and paperbacks, too. The store has more shelves waiting to be added, she noted, and hopes to incorporate used books into the offerings soon.
“It was not a long, thoughtful and meticulously planned adventure. But it was done so easily for us because we already had a business, which allowed us to be able to take a little risk, ”said Meredith Kenney. “There are some things in life that I think just aren’t going to go away. I think books and music will always be a part of people’s lives.
Larry Jezek, the 65-year-old co-owner of the Tacoma Book Center near Freighthouse Square, agrees with the sentiment. Jezek has been in business for almost 37 years and has seen bookstores come and go in Tacoma. He remains adamant there will always be a market for what they have to offer. That’s precisely what you’d expect from him, given that his store – which he describes as the largest used book store in Washington – carries around half a million titles.
Asked about the future of the word printed in Tacoma, Jezek often returns to the invention of the light bulb. At the time, the days of the candle probably seemed numbered, he suggests.
“One hundred and 150 years later, there are still candle shops,” Jezek says. “Because they give you what the electric light cannot.”
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy racquet, Jezek admits. Selling new books, in particular, can be difficult, thanks to what he describes as “the dark times of Bezos and Kindles and all that.” For a small store, it may be impossible to compete with an online giant that can sell books for a fraction of the price, he said.
It’s a story we all know too well, which is what makes the rooting of Hi-Voltage’s success so easy.
Everyone loves a good underdog – or a long-haired, long-haired hero – and that’s exactly the kind of story Meredith Kenney plans to write with her store’s new venture.
“Especially with COVID over the past couple of years, I think having a way to take you somewhere else and join a different world or explore different places through writing is even more important than ever,” Kenney said.
“It’s something that you can’t replace online. “
This story was originally published 8 December 2021 5:00 a.m.