Empire Roasters Becomes Empire Records

The Seattle-based coffee shop turns its once-empty space into a record shop for visitors.


Photos courtesy of Harrison Davignon

Like all independently run businesses, Seattle-based coffee shop Empire Roasters and Records had to adapt to the signs of the times because of COVID-19. “The first challenge was deciding what I was going to sacrifice,” owner Ian Peters explains. Besides limiting the hours of operation and minimizing guests, one of those sacrifices was laying off his staff and operating the coffee shop solely by himself. Another sacrifice was doing away with their house-made food staples such as waffles and sandwiches.

When Empire Roasters and Records pivoted to a takeout-only coffee shop, it left the upstairs seating space empty of guests for several months while the business was still paying rent for an unused space. And so, Empire Roasters became Empire Roasters and Records. “The record store was born out of brainstorming of what to do with the space,” explains Ian. 

Owner Ian Peters welcoming guests into Empire Roasters and Records. 

For Ian, opening the record store was a no-brainer. “It was definitely a financial decision to open the record store, but after we settled on the idea, I really fell in love with this new side of the business,” he says. “We just want to provide a nice browsing environment for the neighborhood. I live a few blocks away, and I’m stoked to have a record store within walking distance!” Though running a record store is a business, it is also a way for Ian to share his love and knowledge of music with his guests. “My dad was a professor of music, I studied music composition in college, and I played in bands my entire young life until I had kids,” Ian says.

A collection of music biographies. 

Guests can browse through a mix of genres including rock, hip-hop, jazz, and global music. There are over 1,000 offerings on vinyl displayed in wood bins and brightly colored aluminum record holders called Flipbins that are made and distributed by longtime friends of Ian’s. New guidelines for the coffee shop and now record store allow a two-guest maximum, and the time spent upstairs browsing and shopping is limited to 20 minutes. For now, the store is starting with all new records, and eventually will be selling used titles. “We are buying from four different distributors and directly from a couple of record labels,” shares Ian. Guests will also find a small collection of music biographies from Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and over 100 copies of the iconic 33 1/3 series of books for those who want to explore their favorite albums further. “The first week we sold about 60 records and a few books. That’s about as good as I could have hoped for!” says Ian.

Through word of mouth, Empire Roasters and Records has now gained many new customers for both coffee and music. Ian hopes the record store will be a significant portion of the business, but adds, “Our focus will always be coffee. The only reason it makes financial sense is that we can let people upstairs to browse and not have any added labor.”

A display of some of the records Empire Roasters and Records sells.

For now, and at least until the pandemic is over, Empire Roasters and Records will continue to serve their guests coffee and records to-go. For Ian, the new addition to the coffee shop brings back a lot of nostalgia, optimism, and life to the neighborhood. “I am hopeful that the record store is here to stay,” he says. “We’re putting in the effort. What I love about record stores is going in and not necessarily knowing what you’re looking for and coming out with something new to you. I have been a regular at Easy Street (Records in Seattle) for years, and this has happened over and over for me there. Back when I was a teenager in the late ’80s and ’90s, you would go into a record store and perhaps buy an album solely based on the label it was on or what the album cover looked like. I miss that unknown.”

Danielle Krull is a Seattle-based writer who writes about food, immigrant and refugee communities, and faith in overlooked places. In her free time, she loves to cook and cannot live without coffee. 

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