Business

‘I tell ya man, he’s selling there still’

Jeff Crawford lives the music fan’s dream at Glass Onion.

When Jeff Crawford opened the Glass Onion in 1992, in a cramped retail space in Lundgren Station, his goals were modest.

A disgruntled refugee from a Silverdale record store striking out on his own for the first time, he told the Review at that time, “I figured I couldn’t run it any worse than they did.”

To the extent that constituted a business plan, Crawford evidently has been true to his word. Glass Onion CD and Tape Works has defied the small-business mortality rate, and enters its 12th year of operation with its biggest and perhaps best venue yet.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what my plan was in 1992,” Crawford said. “It wasn’t, ‘this is the kind of record store I want to be in 10 years or 15 years.’ I just wanted to survive.

“I’m glad the island agreed with me that it needed a music store.”

After a three-week hiatus, Glass Onion reopened last week in the courtyard of “The Winslow” on Ericksen Avenue. It is the store’s third location; after the Lundgren Station stint, Crawford and his small staff were fixtures in the elbow of Winslow Green from 1994 until this past December.

Losing his lease in a storefront shakeup, he was supposed to be out by September; he worked out a deal to remain in the Green through the holiday season.

“That probably saved my business, to be perfectly honest,” Crawford said. “Missing the fourth quarter isn’t part of a sound business plan.”

The new location doubles Glass Onion’s floor space to about 1,300 square feet.

Crawford and longtime buyer Liz Tuttle have taken advantage by increasing available titles by 50 percent, and bumping up the selection of jazz and classical discs, “giving them as much space as they deserve.”

The store will soon boast five CD listening stations for previewing current releases, and an expanded array of accessories.

Also finding rack space for the first time are concert DVDs, to meet the clamor for a mushrooming number of titles.

“We always had a few sitting on the counter,” he said, “but I didn’t realize the demand there was.”

The fan

A 1984 graduate of Bainbridge High School with a political science degree from the University of Washington, Crawford is an inveterate music fan whose enthusiasm carries across the counter.

He has been heard to gush over a remastered version of jazz great Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”: “Not only should everyone own this album, they should own this version of this album.” Somewhere out there, someone now does.

Glass Onion has survived the challenges faced by the owners of independent record and books stores – namely, cutthroat pricing by huge discount chains and online retailers. Some labels are even using the Internet to cut out the retailer and reach consumers directly.

“We’re fighting the fight, but we’ve been losing margin since we opened,” Crawford said. “(Record companies) will give the big boxes anything they want, but the little guy keeps getting squeezed.”

He credits islanders for observing a strong “Buy Local” ethos; too, his store has always gone out of its way to fill special orders through a broad network of distributors.

But Crawford also concedes that his success rests somewhat in the time and expense involved with going to Seattle or Silverdale.

“I’d like to think it’s because of our shining service and my sparkling personality,” he said, “but we’re convenient.”

Crawford describes island tastes as no less broad than those of metropolitan Seattle, and says he’s sometimes surprised at the local market’s sophistication.

“(Buyers say), ‘we know of this music because we heard it on NPR,’” he said, “‘and we have to have it today!’”

Preparing for a business move was just part of a busy fall for Crawford, now 37. He and his wife Michelle also welcomed their first son, Miles – “as in Davis,” he quips, “or ‘frequent flier.’”

As for the store’s name – he still gets a few inquiries, even after 12 years – music fans will recognize it from the third track on the Beatles’ self-titled opus, usually referred to as the “White Album” (“I told you about the fool on the hill/I tell ya man, he’s sitting there still... Looking through a glass onion”).

The reference, at once obscure and familiar, still suits the proprietor’s sensibilities.

“I could have called this place ‘Island Sounds,’ but I would have hated myself after a certain period of time,” he said.

Interestingly, Crawford says that more than 30 years after its release, “White Album” sales remain strong among Bainbridge Island teens.

“For reasons I don’t understand,” he said, “but certainly encourage.”

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