Everywhere you turn in 4000 Holes, the Beatles are grinning back at you – from posters hanging around the store, cardboard cutouts in the corner, vintage memorabilia behind the counter, a Fab Four clock shaped like a gold record on the wall. It seems perfectly appropriate, since the store basically owes its genesis to John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Bob Gallagher, the longtime owner of the Spokane record store, says he became obsessed with the Beatles sometime in the ’70s, and in his quest to get his hands on anything and everything related to the band, he fell unassumingly into the record business.
“In the ’80s, I started wheeling and dealing a little bit and found I was good at it,” Gallagher said. “I went to a Seattle record swap with a stack of records in my hand, and the trade was so good toward me that I realized I was on the wrong side of the table.”
By the summer of 1989, Gallagher had opened 4000 Holes, named after a line in the Beatles’ masterpiece “A Day in the Life,” at its first location on West Shannon Avenue. It was a strange, turbulent time to own a fledgling record store: The mass production of vinyl was slowing to a trickle, CDs had begun dominating the market and Seattle’s alt-rock scene was poised to take over mainstream radio.
“When I opened up, there weren’t any record stores like this in town anymore,” Gallagher said. “I was driving to Seattle to buy records, and when I opened my store, I didn’t realize everybody was driving to Seattle to buy records. So there was a real need for a record store.”
In the past 25 years, Gallagher has been a witness to the seismic shifts in the record industry, as well as the public’s changing attitudes toward purchasing music. A decade ago, when 4000 Holes moved to its current location, 1610 N. Monroe St., the economy was shaky, and it sometimes appeared that the concept of the neighborhood record store was headed to obsolescence.
“One of the things about our store is we’re a luxury, and in hard times there’s no extra money,” Gallagher said. “We came very, very close to closing on more than one occasion. But fortunately, we’ve been able to hang in there, which actually says more about my customers than just me.”
And while it’s true that fewer people are buying their music these days – SoundScan recently reported that 2014’s album sales are already down 15 percent from last year – more consumers are getting into vinyl. Last year, music fans bought $177 million in vinyl, the highest annual total since 1997, and a number of markets have reported that vinyl sales consistently surpass CD sales.
“You know, there used to be an activity called ‘listening to music,’ ” Gallagher said, “where I would say, ‘What are you doing tonight? I got the new so-and-so, you got the new so-and-so,’ and you’d sit and listen to music, and we’d tape it for each other. It was more of an experience, and I think my customers do that still. That’s the nature of records, of stopping your life and listening to quality music.”
Gallagher is the only guy you’ll ever see behind the counter at 4000 Holes: He’s his own boss, and it allows him to control his prices and his inventory. He still stocks CDs, but most of his sales are new and used records – “I started out as a record store, reluctantly became a CD store, and now we’re a record store again,” he explained.
Not many indie record stores are able to sustain themselves for 25 years, and Gallagher credits the success of 4000 Holes to his customers, many of whom are regulars.
“The idea is to be generous to my customers; they’re so important,” he said. “I’ve always been happy that the vibe in town toward 4000 Holes has always been positive. It’s the best job in town. My joke is, ‘I wish it paid like the best job in town,’ but I’m very fortunate to be able to stay open.”