Capital Records closes its doors

Rob Cohen gives up music sales with a plan to perform more often, playing in a jazz trio

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009

JUNEAU - They're dropping like flies. Small, independently-owned record stores all over the country are going out of business faster than they can be remembered. Juneau's own Capital Records will take its place in the record store graveyard at the end of January, when it plans to close its doors for good.

Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly
Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly

"For music shops, the writing has been on the wall for a while," said Rob Cohen, owner of Capital Records since 1997. He said that with more and more people acquiring their music through digital means, it has become more difficult for stores like his to stay in business.

"Large record companies themselves are putting all their energy toward digital, so when the people who make what you sell don't want you to be the ones selling it, you sort of take a clue from that," Cohen said.

He believes since Juneau is a smaller town with a more locally-minded clientele, his business was able to stay afloat longer than many larger stores in the Lower 48. His shop also has benefited from cruise ship tourists and crew members during the summer, which has been the bump they've needed to make it through the rest of the year.

For many of the store's loyal customers, it's sad enough that they will now have to travel to Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart, or to purchase hard copies of music. On top of that, many feel this is the demise of a social institution in the community.

"It's so much more than just a place to buy something," Cohen said. "It's a social nexus, a place where people meet, talk and interact. There's a human element to it that's a little clunky from a 21st century mentality."

Ed Blair is one of the many people who are sad to see Capital Records close. An avid record collector, Blair hosts a radio show Saturday nights on KRNN called "Our City Is Burning." He airs everything from hip-hop to punk rock and heavy metal.

"It's awful 'High Fidelity' of me, but there's something neat and special about a music store that you can go into that isn't owned by a big corporation," Blair said.

One of his favorite elements of the record store experience is the impulse buy. Buying music on the Internet is very intentional, he said. However, when wandering around in a record store, you never know what you may find.

"I was down at Capital Records this summer and found 'Mule Variations' by Tom Waits," Blair said. "I wasn't looking specifically for that record, but finding it was really awesome."

Finn Straley, of Sitka, was browsing through the store while in town last week, looking for the new Animal Collective album.

"I can't believe this place is closing," Straley said. "I can't imagine Juneau without this place."

The business has served as more than just a place of commerce in its twenty years of its existence. Cohen described it as "an interface to the community" in spreading awareness of local cultural events. He recalled when big bands like the Misfits came to town and signed autographs out of his store.

Cohen said he realizes that his industry is tough even in the best of times, let alone during a national economic crisis.

"I've known this day would come for a while," Cohen said. "There's no use being a relic ... just because you enjoy it personally."

Even though his storefront will soon no longer exist, Cohen plans to continue his role in Juneau's music community. With more time on his hands, he hopes to perform more often, playing in a jazz trio with other local musicians. He also plans to teach music lessons, both private and group-oriented. He said it's one thing to teach one person to master their instrument as a soloist, but it's a whole different ballgame to get people to learn how to play together as a functioning ensemble.

"I'm going to miss the people, folks coming in and having an opportunity to interact," Cohen said.

In hopes of liquidating the many stacks of CDs, LPs and DVDs that surround the store's small amount of walking space, everything will be on sale with a minimum of 30 percent off, and LPs will be 50 percent off. Special orders will still be taken at full price through the end of the month. The last day of business will be Jan. 31.

"I'm going to move on," Cohen said. "I have no regrets. It was a good ride while it lasted."

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