Avalon Music: a local institution with a community-based flare

Record Store Day Series - Phil Saunders - Editor

The trope of the grumpy record store employee, popularized by actor Jack Black in the film High Fidelity is one that Chris Lamb, owner of Avalon Records in Bellingham can understand, but it isn’t one he’s keen on perpetuating at his boutique store in the heart of a university town 20 miles south of the Canadian Border.

“I’ve gone through that whole cycle of being that guy,” he says after decades of working in stores both here and in Chicago, where he says he learned the most about what makes a record store successful. “Why be rude to the person who is coming to your store.”

Avalon holds a special place in Bellingham and always has live music and special deals on Record Store Day. The location (at the corner of Railroad and Magnolia) has been home to a music store of some description for more than 45 years. Lamb himself has worked there on and off since attending university in 1998. Which means he’s been working for more than half the 30 years it’s been operating since opening as Avalon in 1987.

What you will notice upon first entering the store, is that about a third of the store is also a head shop, offering glass pipes, hookahs, and other smoking aids.

Avalon Records owner Chris Lamb holding one of his personal favorites from his collection at his store in downtown Bellingham

The next thing you’ll see is a large new arrivals section, where each week a new slate of used records can be found, drawing from a network of collector sellers who have come to know Avalon and Lamb as the best place to get a fair price for used vinyl.

“When I returned here from Chicago,” says Lamb, “I was lucky enough to score a deal with my former employer back east to bring boxes of records during a time that the vinyl format was only just beginning to make a comeback.”

He spent the next few years enhancing the shop’s unique approach to acquiring vinyl, while also benefiting from many regional collectors who were getting older and shedding their collections.

As such, Avalon offers a lot of quality vinyl than most other stores in town. It also has a healthy collection of used CDs which are meticulously curated to provide only the best releases from the eighties and nineties at affordable prices.

As Lamb and his staff cycle through a steady flow of new and used arrivals, the shop also offers special releases from independent labels from across the continent and around the world, meaning a collector will be happy with not only the diversity of vinyl but a nice blend of new and used products. And if they don’t have it, they can order it in and have it to you in under a week, in most cases.

“My philosophy is this,” says Lamb, who became sole owner of the store a little over a year ago, “I would rather sell a record for 20 bucks than putting it online for 35. I try to keep my prices low to increase my foot traffic.”

Another nice feature of the shop is customer service. Upon entering the store, you will be greeted by a staff member who will query your interests and help you navigate the collection.

“This business is about personal relationships,” says Lamb. “What distinguishes us from our online competitors is the relationships our customers have with our staff. It means that not only do we help them, but in many cases, customers will provide insights into music trends that we may otherwise miss.”

This philosophy makes Avalon part of a larger trend that is bringing a unique, community-based model of curated retailing, providing at once a great collection that emerges from the customers that frequent the place and a modest amount of trendy new releases not always found in other stores.

Open seven days a week, Avalon is in the heart of Bellingham’s business district:

About Phil Saunders (17 Articles)
I have been a professional writer since 1988 when I began my career as a music journalist. In 1998 I began working at CBC, after returning to work with a Master's in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. In 2000 I co-produced a feature film that was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival among other North American film festivals. In 2016 I published a book on the Toronto underground music scene called No Flash Please: Underground Music in Toronto 1987-1992. I am also a photographer and documentary filmmaker.

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