BREMERTON — Clint Leach was headed for a career as a librarian. But in a twist of fate, it was music, rather than books, that became his domain.
Enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Washington, Leach, a Bay Area native, noticed a gaping hole in his adopted city.
Where was the vinyl?
“I was bummed to learn there was no record store in Bremerton,” he said. “I felt we could start one here, a community, like a library.”
So he dropped the masters and began “Bigfoot’s House of Vinyl” on Pacific Avenue. It’s a team effort between him and Mandi Leach, his wife, and the artist who has designed the store’s branding and merchandise.
The couple, which opened Tuesday down the hall from Ballast Books near the corner of Fourth Street, has been pleased with the response so far.
Their goal: to make the store reflective of what the community wants. Exhibit A: their first sale was “The First Damned,” a 2000-released compilation of demos by Decapitated, a Polish death metal band.
“If a customer is after something in particular, we’ll do everything in our power to get it for them,” Leach said.
In their heyday, record stores once dotted the peninsula, with at least three in Bremerton alone throughout much of the late 20th century. Bill Benson, who ran stores from Poulsbo to Port Orchard, said the introduction of cassette tapes and compact discs set about their decline in the late 1980s.
“That transition really put the records business out of business,” said Benson, who himself moved into the car stereo market, where those tapes and CDs could be played.
Only the occasional boutique record store has survived in Kitsap County since.
But before you get the idea this is just a retro fad, consider this: Vinyl LP sales grew in 2021 to 41.7 million, a more than 50 percent increase over the year prior, and nine times the amount sold a decade ago, according to the Billboard charts-supplying MRC Data. The biggest names in music are repackaging old albums and releasing new ones what is increasingly seen as the timeless format.
A record store seems all the less far-fetched when you consider the town itself, a musical hotbed where Quincy Jones first touched a piano. The city was also one of the places where the telephone-connected Shyvers’ Multiphone debuted, bringing an on-demand music service to the town in the 1940s and 50s. And its venues, including the former Perl’s Pavillion, hosted greats including Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Ramones.
And it’s another retro niche in the city, to go with the anachronistic and trendy Bremerton Office Machines Company selling and repairing typewriters up Fourth Street.
Records are merchandise in a time when more of our lives are disappearing into the cloud and streaming services gobble up artists’ profits. Vinyl albums give a tangible product into the hands of fans and can include other goodies like posters inside.
“And it’s so much more exciting when you put the needle on the record to play it,” said Leach, whose children, Outtumn, 5, and Orion, almost a year old, can often be found in tow with the couple in-store.
Leach grew up in the great record stores of the Bay Area: Rasputin Music, Tower Records, and the like.
The family moved here for Leach’s master’s program and as Bremerton home values soared. So the couple decided to take their down payment nest egg and “use that as the capital to start our own business,” he said.
Leach started hitting garage and estate sales and scouring online sites like craigslist in an effort to spot deals in bulk. The motherlode came in September 2021, when a North Seattle record store decided to close up shop.
In one fell swoop, he’d found an inventory of 60,000 records.
“I had to take the racks, the crates, everything,” he said.
Leach was looking for a good name and emblem for his store when he had an idea: why not brand it for that great regional enigma, that quirkiest of Pacific Northwest mascots? Sasquatch, it would be.
“I’ve always been a believer,” Leach said.
The couple sees a future for the business downtown, as vinyl continues to gain popularity and people decide they want an artist’s album, not just a playlist algorithm.
“It’s also an excellent way to support the artists we love,” Leach said. “Vinyl is the ultimate form of high fidelity. It’s the closest thing to the instruments being right there in the room with you.”