[Thrifting Adventures] Al’s Music, Fire

The fire destroyed nine businesses in the Federal Way, Washington complex, including one of the three Al’s Music, Video, and Games stores. It’s not clear if it was arson. “It’s just fortunate there was a space between the buildings.” Al’s is one of the remaining family businesses specializing in used media that haven’t been swept up by the ubiquity of online retail. Let’s cover what’s helping them stay relevant in this somber Thrifting Adventures episode.

I first visited Al’s when I was in college in the early 2000s. Their Seattle location was a magical place to discover rare media and I was hooked! It was a hidden gem.

Online retail wasn’t really the ubiquitous thing then it is now. If you were looking for anything outside The Top 100, and not even anything all that rare or limited edition, you only had a few options. You couldn’t order it online or download it. If it wasn’t in a mail-away and your friends didn’t have it, you had to hunt it down in a used media store that would stock the rare, the cool, and the junk. Between those three, you could usually find that unusual CD or videogame that wasn’t readily available in the big box media stores.

Their display shelves were also like mini museums filled with oddities, rarities, and other eccentric or extreme esoteria that you could buy if you wanted a nice trophy piece for your growing collection.

Now, as time and technology went on, you can buy basically anything that has ever been produced given enough patience. Stores like Al’s were demystified. What were once vital locations for exploring cultural landscapes have become quaint escapes. It’s become so easy to buy anything online and have it arrive in a week or so. Road trips out to stores like this aren’t as exciting anymore, which could lead to financial ruin, even without having a building destroyed overnight. I don’t think this has to be the end for stores like this! The thrill of thrifting has just migrated online.

There’s still value in brick-and-mortar stores in 2017. There’s a certain “try it before you buy it” mentality that’s still thriving, even in this age of depreciation for physical media. There’s still hope!

Some stores are adapting well to the digital frontier by listing their valuable inventory online while hosting the physical inventory in stores. Kirkland, Washington store Amazing Heroes covers both fronts. They’ll remove an item from their online store if someone buys it in person and they’ll ship out an item from inventory if someone purchased it online. This sort of business model benefits both types of customers: the ones that enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the ones that just want the trophy. Developing an online store can also help Al’s rebound and thrive in the face of destruction.

If nothing else, opting to support businesses in your area over the more convenient online options can go a long way toward keeping niche small businesses in business.

[7/5 Update: Cause of fire unknown.]

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