Fillipi Book & Record Shop: The Oldest Jazz Joint in Town
“ Records and books about jazz are a major feature at Fillipi ”
This article was submitted on behalf of Todd Matthews.
It is almost impossible to imagine a time when Seattle suffered a lack of book and record shops. The city is known as much for its coffee and rain as it is for its literary and musical interests. However, perusing books and records wasn’t at the top of a Seattleite’s list during the 1930s. “My father had run away from a farm in Nebraska and went to San Francisco,” Brenda Fillipi told me recently, charting the history of her family’s popular and most recognizable namesake: Fillipi Book & Record Shop in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “[He] got a job at a bookstore. My mother had a background [in books and music]. It was a natural thing. The fact that they opened the shop during the middle of the Depression is a salute to either dedication or foolishness—or both.”
Fillipi’s parents passed away sixteen years ago, and she now runs the oldest used record and book shop in Seattle. The shop is located in a sprawling, wedge-shaped building on the corner of Olive Way and Melrose Avenue—a staunch symbol of history amid an area that has seen its share of gentrification.
When the store opened in 1935, it was located in downtown Seattle and focused exclusively on books. During World War II, Fillipi’s parents moved the store into their home, and she found herself surrounded by books and music. “My brother and I grew up with books and records all over the place,” Fillipi recalled, seated behind the store’s counter and staring out at the foot traffic along Olive Way. “I have just always had books and records around.” In 1952, Fillipi’s parents moved into the shop’s present location. The family purchased the building, which allowed their collection to grow.
Indeed, Fillipi’s is a sprawling space filled with antiques, aged family photos, and old magazines. It is more than a shop: it is a museum-and-walk-in-curio-cabinet. As such, it is one of the most unique and enriching shopping experiences in Seattle—one that leans more toward collectibles, first-editions and rarities rather than the latest bestsellers and celebrity book club selections.
WHERE THE ACTION IS
Records and books about jazz are a major feature at Fillipi’s. They add character to the rows of stacks, and prove to be an educational journey through the history of jazz. The cartoon-style bare feet of the Hot Jazz! album by the McKinney Cotton Pickers nearly leap off the shelf. The purple-and-yellow cover of Charlie Parker with Strings is moody and sophisticated. The stacks of records are deep, yet well organized. Three spacious rooms in the shop are dedicated to LPs, 78’s, 45’s and 33’s (one room solely for jazz albums). A turntable in a corner of the room serves as a listening station. Hundreds of jazz books line a shelf near the counter, serving as a reference library for visitors (these books are not for sale—though other jazz books located throughout the shop are for sale). The selection of books ranges from the vintage (To Be or Not to Bop by Dizzy Gillespie) to the contemporary (Jackson Street After Hours by Paul de Barros). In addition to books and records, the shop also offers jazz-specific sheet music, posters, anthologies, and magazines.
Why such a focus on jazz at Fillipi’s?
“I really concentrate on jazz,” Fillipi explained, “because that’s what sells. That’s where most of the action is. The collectors of long-play and vinyl are looking more for jazz. The classical market is pretty much dead. Whereas the CD’s have affected the sales of some of the other things, actually having the long-play seems to be what people want when it comes to jazz.” That is not to say that Fillipi is a jazz aficionado. “The anomaly is that I’m not a jazz expert,” Fillipi added. “People just come in and do their own shopping here. I don’t have an extensive jazz collection. At least people that come in here know that I don’t hold things for myself.”
Music of any genre (not simply jazz) was a late addition to Fillipi’s. The store traded exclusively in books for nearly a decade. When Fillipi’s parents bought an estate collection in the mid-1940s, their purchase included a large number of records. “[My parents] sort of backed into this,” Fillipi said, referring to the shop’s inventory of records. “This was not something that was ever a deliberate intention.” A strange comment, considering the rare and vintage record collection of that shop is one of its defining attributes. Fillipi’s feels more like a musician’s alcove than used bookshop. The vintage, studious mood of Fillipi’s is like having your own intimate jazz study—a great way to spend an afternoon listening and reading as long as you like.
JAZZ REPLACES CLASSICAL