Eighteen years later, he just moved to a bigger space in Everett, fighting the newest tide of music technology.
"The business has really fallen off with iPods and downloading," said Arlin, owner of the Bargain CDs, Records & Tapes stores in Everett and Marysville.
But he and his two full-time employees aren't surrendering yet, as his love for music has motivated his whole working life.
"All three of us are nuts for music and records, and we don't mind the minutiae of the business," Arlin said.
The finer points of running a used CD and record store, he explained, include keeping track of supply and demand.
At Bargain CDs, buyers won't find all used discs priced at $9.99. A rare record or in-demand CD in good condition commands higher prices. On the other hand, an album that the store has plenty of copies of, or one that's not in high demand, is priced to sell.
The same rules apply when customers come to sell their used albums to the business.
It's a system that takes employees a while to master, but it's worth the trouble, Arlin said.
The business takes other steps to endear customers, including calling them when an album on their "want list" arrives in the bins. Arlin said he plans to get an upgraded Web site up and running soon to offer record sales online.
Also, with the recent move of Bargain CDs' Everett store from Hewitt Avenue to the larger space on Broadway, Arlin plans to close the Marysville store when his lease runs out there and consolidate the business in Everett.
It's all in the name of adaptation. Arlin's seen his competitors in Snohomish County alone dwindle from eight or 10 used record and CD stores a decade or so ago. Now, he believes, his is the last store selling used vinyl records between Seattle and Bellingham.
Even now, however, Arlin will tell you running the stores still isn't as hard as running a band.
A drummer who led several bands from the time he was in high school well into his adulthood, Arlin said the experience of securing gigs, dealing with promoters and just surviving as a professional musician was useful training. When he got married and gave up the nomadic life of playing music, he went to a job agency to figure out where to work.
With his music background, the employment agent suggested he work in a record store. He started at Cellophane Square in Seattle in the late 1970s.
"It was just serendipity that the job agent pointed me toward that business," he said. "I had an 11-year schooling at my employer's expense."
He worked through the years at a couple of record stores and also got DJ work on the side. He was the first DJ at General Store Tavern in Snohomish, one of the area's first discos.
In 1989, the longtime Mukilteo resident opened the first Bargain CDs at the corner of Hewitt and Rucker, and the business has been his focus ever since. Especially in the new Broadway space, a former beloved neighborhood video store, the aura in Bargain CDs mimics closely that of the record store in the movie "High Fidelity." The rows of record and CD racks and bins are nearly all homemade, the employees know the regular customers well and greet them as they drop by, and browsing is encouraged.
"We're kind of like a hobby shop combined with a museum," Arlin said. "People will pull out an album from the racks and reminisce."
But it's not just boomers and seasoned audiophiles buying vinyl records these days. While the majority of younger listeners are sticking MP3 players in their pockets to listen to music, some are discovering the joy of listening to the rich tones embedded in the grooves of a record. It's been a hopeful sign for the business.
"That's really turned around," Arlin said of his record sales. "It's taken a huge upswing. One of the most wonderful things is all the young people buying vinyl from the '60s. They're nuts for Hendrix, the Doors and the Beatles."
Doug Sandhop, who's worked for Arlin the past nine years, said the recent move to the new Everett location is a plus as well.
"Having more floor space definitely will help. In the old place, we had lots of things we didn't have the space to put out and show," he said. He added that the business' regulars have begun coming to the new place, and new customers are stopping as they pass by on Broadway.
For those reasons, along with his love for music, Arlin remains optimistic about his vocation. Thumbing through the CDs in his store, he can talk knowledgeable about bands from a variety of musical genres. But he also has definite favorites.
"I'm all about the Beatles and Peter Gabriel and John Coltrane," he said. "That and any '50s R&B from New Orleans."
Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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