Resurgence of vintage records, books at Backstreet Beat

Raymond and Anne Gendreau have owned the shop for six years on Winslow Way

Nowadays, most of the younger generations tend to listen to music and read books through online platforms, but one local business that sells vintage vinyl records and books tells a different story.

“Younger people, from day one, have come in here,” said Raymond Gendreau, owner of Backstreet Beat on Winslow Way. “A lot of people in their 30s. We have oldsters come in, high school kids come in pretty regularly. They’ve got a turntable, and they’re pretty knowledgeable about what’s out there. They go on YouTube and come in and tell me things.”

An important component for the resurgence of vintage items locally has been the charm of the shop itself. Gendreau said shopping online doesn’t compare with the in-store experience.

“To go online and click a button and get it delivered two days later is not that much fun,” he said. “My shop is the type of shop where you come in and you find something. You didn’t come in looking for that particular item but that item finds you.”

Gendreau and his wife Anne opened the shop six years ago after he retired from a photography teaching job at the Art Institute of Seattle that he did for about 20 years. He was a commercial photographer for over 20 years with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and some of his work is featured in the shop and for sale.

“I have a miniature gallery in the shop,” he said. “There’s a lot of wall space so you just fill it with your own stuff. Every once in a while I get surprised when someone pulls it off the wall and buys it.”

On the side, Gendreau loved collecting books and records at yard sales and thrift stores. He estimated he has tens of thousands of each. Before opening the store, Gendreau would spend time at the Fremont Sunday Market selling his collections.

“I learned a lot about what people like and how to deal with people,” he said. “You have to enjoy it when you load your car, unload your car, reload your car, and then you come home and unload your car with all this stuff, which is not very light. Now I can sell stuff, and all I have to do is turn the key to the door, open the door and turn the lights on. It’s a lot less wear and tear on the body.”

Inside the store, two-thirds of the space is for books; everything from vintage, art and photography, poetry, literature, science fiction, rock and roll biographies, film history, and even some newer books. Gendreau described his collection as “very eclectic.” He also has a storage room full of stuff that he pulls from to put in the store.

Some of the store’s more popular items include classic rock records from The Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. Gendreau also said soul records are a big hit from artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Al Green. Of course, he also has local Seattle grunge favorites like Nirvana, Sound Garden and Pearl Jam. But it’s not all vintage items.

“I do order new stock because there’s a lot of really great artists that come out on vinyl now,” he said. “I try to be pretty selective about what I bring into the shop. I have to like to listen to it on the turntable in the shop. This year … there were four people from the Seattle area who were nominated for a Grammy, and they all had stuff on vinyl. I kind of promote those and sell those as well.”

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the store had to close until June of that year. The few months of closure gave Gendreau some needed time to update his massive inventory by throwing stuff out and reorganizing boxes of items. During that time, he kept selling items online.

“There were a lot of people at home with nothing to do,” he said. “Records and books are pretty easy to ship.”

Upon retiring from teaching, Gendreau opened the store at age 64 and is now 69. He had always envisioned opening some kind of vintage store and things sort of “fell into place” to make that happen. Both he and Anne are “still having a lot of fun,” and they are not sure when they want to retire for good.

“That’s the big unknown,” he said. “It goes pretty smooth. She keeps me from messing the shop up too much in terms of having boxes all over the place, which is what I tend to do.”

Basic info: Backstreet Beat is located at 265 Winslow Way E #102 and is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.