Hex Enduction Records & Books opened in Lake City on November 9, and it seems like the start of something fantastic for Seattle's cultural life, if my initial trip there is any indication. Run by Dean Whitmore and Gabi Page-Fort (both of whom play in the art-rock group Tissue) and Tom Ojendyk (owner of the Dirty Knobby label), Hex Enduction is an extremely well-curated emporium of new and used vinyl recordings and books. I dropped $221 there and could've easily spent a grand, if I were in better financial shape. Quick first impression: Hex Enduction ranks among the top three record stores in Seattle.
The musical focus is on rock (predominantly psych, prog, and indie), jazz (heavy on Miles Davis, Sun Ra, the Coltranes, Don Cherry, etc.), folk (largely in the vein of John Fahey and Robbie Basho), world (killer Sublime Frequencies selection), blues, and country, but I found four excellent Italian library-music LPs, too, and you'll find some funk and soul gems, as well. Books are focused on international novels, poetry, Pacific Northwest subjects, and vintage mass-market paperbacks. I also spotted Paul Hanley's Have a Bleedin Guess: The Story of Hex Enduction Hour; yes, the shop's name is inspired by the Fall's Hex Enduction Hour.
If you want to sell your records and/or books, Hex Enduction is buying, but the owners are doing so with a degree of selectivity. Don't try to peddle your beat-up Ferrante & Teicher and Dan Fogelberg LPs or trashy romance novels here. You can bring in your books to sell on weekends, or you can leave them during the week and return for cash or credit. And, yes, they'll make house calls.
Whitmore—who also sings and plays drums in Unnatural Helpers—decided to make a go of it in music retail after working for over 20 years at Sub Pop... as head of independent retail sales. He left the respected indie label on good terms, but admits he didn't relate well to, as he put it in an email interview, "the new streaming/social media-focused economy and whether it's in the best interest of artists, art, and the people who want to consume it."
Page-Fort—who works as an editorial director for a large Seattle publisher—says that Hex Enduction will stock books that she loves and it will be "global in scope, inspired by my collecting but by no means limited to my own collection, highlighting obvious favorites like Joan Didion and Lucille Clifton, but reaching beyond." She's open to customers' suggestions on what to carry.
"I realized on a trip to Vancouver a few years ago that Canada had their own Beat poets," Page-Fort says, "and that I had never seen many of the local favorites, so Hex Enduction will aim to share those discoveries and expand from there, from the world's range of Englishes to works in translation and the occasional foreign-language book." Hex Enduction emphasizes used and rare books, but it will also embrace limited new release spotlights. The store also plans to host readings and literary events, and welcomes the public's ideas.
The guiding principles behind Hex Enduction, according to Whitmore, are "Representing artists that we love and respect. Primarily underground artists, local artists, forgotten artists, and artists operating on the margins. And Cheap Trick. And AC/DC. Ha ha. I'm hoping the shop will be a great place for music discovery and not just a place to pick up things that you already know you like. But we have some staples, as well."
Ojendyk says, "We are a small shop and our tastes are broad so our focus is to be community-oriented by supporting local musicians, artists, labels, and authors as well as to promote under-appreciated folks. We also want to listen to what folks have to say and we love to hear what folks are excited about."
"Nobody's buying physical media anymore" is a refrain I've heard throughout the 2010s, and yet good people are still opening stores such as Hex Enduction. Did any friends or family advise Whitmore and company not to do this? "It's not been my experience that people aren't into buying physical media," Whitmore says. "People are not getting rich, but I don't see stores closing very often. The record fairs I've been to recently having been raging with people. I don't believe any of the other statistics, ha ha.
"Everyone is different, but interacting with music on the internet is a really hollow experience for me and a lot of other people I've spoken to. As far as whether or not people advised me not to do it, anyone that knows me and my love of records and music thought it made perfect sense. Maybe they knew I wouldn't listen anyway. I felt I owed it to myself to try and do something that I'm 100 percent all about, and when I investigated spaces, I really felt like I could do it. If I hold to my standards and the business fails, I'll be disappointed but okay with that."
Ojendyk says that "Streaming is a great resource, but it is impersonal and it is easy for great music and books to get lost. With a store, folks can talk to us about their tastes and we can learn from each other, which is a different experience than just having a giant tech company feeding you something based on an algorithm or through paid sponsorship."
Okay, but what about this new era of horrible record distribution thanks to major labels' disdainful attitude toward physical product, causing shops to experience long delays in receiving releases? Hex Enduction has avoided that pitfall, too. "I'm ordering directly from a number of labels and also a lot of independent distributors who are free from the entanglements that some of these larger enterprises have found themselves caught up in," Whitmore says. "These problem distros have made it really difficult to do business with them because of order limits and other issues, so we just avoid them."
In addition to literary readings, Hex Enduction plans to host live music—and speaking of which, Tissue will be playing Depression Fest at Fred Wildlife Refuge (including a spoken-word set by Page-Fort) on December 12. Tissue are also nearing completion of their second album, Plenty, with Kurt Bloch producing.
Lake City is far from the hub of Seattle musical activity, so one wonders why Hex Enduction's owners chose this spot on Lake City Way NE. Turns out Whitmore and Page-Fort live in the 'hood, and the former "realized I was waiting around hoping that something cool would happen to my neighborhood when I should have been putting energy into making it cooler myself. I was inspired by the bar Korochka (RIP) and their DIY spirit and how the community loved and appreciated what they did. I've met a lot of rad people out here and have gotten so much positive feedback already." Ojendyk adds, "We like being around all the other small businesses in the area. Our neighbors have been great and we like the mix and vibe of the neighborhood."