By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight, as it does several nights most months, Easy Street Records is hosting an in-store concert.
As usual, it’ll be in the space where Easy Street operates its wildly popular café by day. But if Easy Street proprietor Matt Vaughan had his way, he’d have some extra space for events like that by now – downstairs, in the space that was long known as the Corner Pocket.
Vaughan sat down with WSB yesterday afternoon to talk about his hopes of taking it over – which, he says, hit a sudden and mysterious roadblock. So far, other key players in the saga are declining comment, so we’re telling Vaughan’s story, which he contacted us about so that you would know where things stand.
First, the Corner Pocket backstory:
The abrupt shutdown of the Corner Pocket happened last December, as we first told you during breaking-news coverage of a police raid there.
As unfolded in our subsequent coverage, Seattle Police made undercover drug buys there, and five months later, a member of the family that had long operated the bar, Michael E. Maine, pleaded guilty to three drug charges and one firearms charge and was sentenced to residential drug treatment.
Though the bar’s liquor license was suspended as a result, Maine’s mother Jan Maine retained its lease and continued to pay rent, while seeking to secure its future. That’s according to Vaughan, who says he reached an agreement to buy the business from her back in June.
He says he was ready to start paying the rent in June, but they were waiting for a key approval – from the building’s property manager, WN Management. (Reached by phone this morning, WN’s Mike Trifolio declined comment.) Originally, Vaughan explained, the Corner Pocket’s longtime manager Tommy Jenkins was going to be part of the deal to take over the CP space, but the property manager said they didn’t want anyone from the CP’s past involved, and Vaughan agreed to that. Still he waited for final approval. “We got the keys and the lease” in the meantime. After a few months went by, Vaughan said, he wrote the rent check instead of Maine – but it wasn’t cashed. He said he reached out to the city-landmark Hamm Building‘s owners, the Yen family (we have left a voice message for a family spokesperson), and was told there would be “an update soon,” but it’s mid-October now and no update yet.
He said he heard rumors of “other offers” but “I wasn’t too concerned – we’d made a deal, and (Jan Maine) was making plans to move to Arizona.”
So he waited. He said he had no reason to believe he wouldn’t eventually get approval – “we had had discussions before, over the years,” including, he says, the building’s owners, “that Easy Street would be the natural successor” for the Corner Pocket space, someday.
It wasn’t just a space – he was buying the equipment too, including “nice pool tables” and kitchen equipment, accumulated over the decades.
But now it appears that’s all going to someone else. Vaughan says he’s heard rumors – and someone anonymously called us a few days with the same rumor – that it’s people formerly involved with another bar in West Seattle (we haven’t confirmed anything and we don’t publish rumors). We contacted the state Liquor and Cannabis Board today to ask if anyone has applied for a new or transferred license for the Corner Pocket space – which often happens fairly early in a new business’s plan to open. Spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter told us, “We have no pending applications at that location. The previous license expired in February. A new entity could certainly apply for a new license at the location.”
Regarding Vaughan’s hopes for the space, he says that contrary to what he describes as “gossip,” he had never planned to turn it into a venue. “Our only concept was to bring our events and in-store (shows) downstairs – they’re usually in the early evening – try to do some as all-ages.” He says Easy Street has always been mindful of noise rules and hasn’t had any violations – he soundproofed the ceiling many years ago and that, he says, has been enough protection that even the residents in the Hamm Building’s upstairs apartments don’t complain.
He says he’s “superbummed” that his dreams don’t appear likely to come true. But he stresses that he also remains grateful to the Hamm Building’s owners for having given him the chance, way back when he was all of 19 years old, to get the prime spot on the corner, and then later to expand into the restaurant space, where, he says, he would love to add dinner service sometime – if there was another space (such as the Corner Pocket) available for some of the in-store shows, which often are booked at the last minute.
“It just seemed like a natural progression for us, and a fair deal, and one that struck an emotional chord for Jan and myself.”
So does Vaughan have any recourse? He’s still mulling that. But in the short run, he wanted you to know what’s going on … or not going on.