If you’re driving down Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, WA, you very well might miss The Business. Only two blocks away from the Port of Anacortes, it’s fairly removed from the rest of town. Only a simple wooden sign adorns the exterior, stating just the shop’s name and the subtitle “A Record Store.” The store’s interior is similarly spartan. The space is only 1,100 square feet in total, with bins of vinyl records and CDs on both side walls and a center island displaying more records and cassette tapes. Beneath these humble embellishments, however, is the unique and storied history of an independent retail outlet that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1978, The Business originally sold miscellaneous products, such as books, stained glass, and birdseed. In 1995, founder Glen DesJardins turned the store over to Bret Lunsford – one of the core members of Beat Happening, an influential indie rock band from Olympia. The store has both moved location and changed ownership twice since then, and its retail focus has changed from miscellany, to music, to consignment. Under the current ownership of Nick Rennis and Evie Opp, The Business follows the model pioneered by Lunsford as a uniquely independent music store.
One defining element of The Business today is its focus on curation. All new titles in stock exclusively come from labels and artists that have direct connections with the store. “We want the things we stock to have a relationship with our space in a unique one-to-one way,” Rennis says. “To make it as a brick and mortar store in today’s music landscape, we have to be fiercely independent. Otherwise, we’d just be offering up whatever else one could easily find at Best Buy or Urban Outfitters or wherever it is people find Justin Timberlake records.”
Since 2012, another hallmark of The Business has been wholesale distribution and mail order fulfillment. Besides expanding their ventures and adding another revenue stream, the owners view this operation as “essential to establishing The Business as a worldwide hub for independent voices.” Similar to their practice with in-store titles, they operate this venture through thoughtful curation and direct relationships with independent artists and labels.
For both in-store and behind-the-scenes operation, The Business is all about “upping the culture in Anacortes,” and their impact is definitely significant.
“Every musician I know who grew up in Anacortes would absolutely credit The Business as being a pillar of influence in their formative years,” says John Van Deusen, a local musician. He also cites The Business as broadening his own musical tastes – as well as hosting some of his favorite live performances ever. “Basically, without the Business, Anacortes would be dangerously close to a boring, upper middle-class hell hole,” Van Deusen says. “I’m so thankful it exists.”
Former owner Bret Lunsford also notes the store’s continuing impact. He cites at least one instance of The Business having a multigenerational influence on the local arts community. “I can think of one family whose (now) grandma consigned stained glass art in the 1970s, followed by the son’s hit psychedelic CD in the nineties … and the granddaughter is playing folk rock concerts at the new Business. And there’s more where that came from.” He says, “The Business has been meaningful to Anacortes as a place that welcomes human creative expression in a community context, in different ways.”
These feelings of fraternity go both ways. “There is a palpable sense of community here,” Rennis says, noting the decades of support from the city. “In many other places, folks don’t care about their downtowns or each other and don’t mind just buying things from corporate entities that offer things at ethically questionable prices.”
Now, 40 years after its inception, Rennis and Opp look to use The Business to spread that culture worldwide. “Anacortes is a special place … We are giving the chance for the rest of the world to interact with our little island in ways like never before.”