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Friday, August 27, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Legend Of Fallout Records, Books & Comics Evolves As Energetic New Owner Takes Over Capitol Hill Store

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

------------------------------- NEW OWNERSHIP

The grand re-opening of Fallout Records, Books & Comics takes place Sept. 17. There will be celebrity appearances in the store all weekend, as well as the launch of a Web site, www.falloutrecords.com. Fallout is at 1506 E. Olive Way, Seattle; 206-323-2662; Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. -------------------------------

It's smaller than the Space Needle, as crowded as Pike Place Market and famous from Osaka to Sarajevo. It's where star skateboarders hold autograph sessions and underground cartoonists load up their charge cards - and where luminaries of grunge once took their homemade tapes.

Fallout Records, Books & Comics is a Seattle landmark. But it's not a site that atrophied once the flannel faded. In fact, it is now getting an energetic new owner: Tim Hayes, an ex-employee and a record-store veteran. Hayes, who is leaving a job with Fantagraphics Books, says he "respects the Fallout history but plan to even make more." This is bound to be something of a challenge; Fallout is the kind of legend that has to evolve.

Its story started in July 1984, with two graduates of Evergreen College. One was Russ Battaglia, an ex-art student who worked as a janitor. The other was Bruce Pavitt, a record-store clerk who later co-founded SubPop Records.

The pair launched Fallout (initially, Fallout Records & Skateboards) in the Capitol Hill shopfront where it still resides today. They dedicated the space to "independent American culture." At the time, this meant punk music, skateboard culture and home-grown fanzines.

"That was the Reagan era," says Battaglia now. "If you happened to be in the arts, you had to invent a job of your own."

Pavitt left within 18 months to launch his label; he was replaced by Russ' wife Janet. Guided by the Battaglias' vision, Fallout became a community center - patronized by skaters, celebrity visitors, local artists and musicians.

Tim Hayes worked there from 1986 to the early `90s. "The place," he says, "was already a beehive by the time I joined." Among those customers Hayes was soon facing across the counter were artists he knew from his first job at DJ Sound City in Aberdeen's Wishkah Mall. They included musicians Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, Matt Lukin of Mudhoney and Kurt Cobain, who would become famous with Nirvana.

Before grunge could form, however, there was skateboarding, a mainstay of Fallout throughout the 1980s. The store sent its local skater-stars into the West Coast big leagues with a team that, at its height, numbered a dozen riders. Almost all its members still remain in touch with Russ Battaglia - and he delights in detailing their accomplishments. "Cam Martin, he's become a really successful painter. He's in New York City, just like Ryan Monihan, who writes screenplays. Chris Lundry got a degree in Micronesian history; other guys - like Aaron Deeter, Marshall Reid - are still here, skating."

In 1990, Fantagraphics Books came to town, attracting a host of well-known comic artists and cartoonists. Fallout Records gave both their work and their fans a home. In addition to stocking a huge range of comics, T-shirts and artwork, they lured out-of-town stars here for in-store parties and signings. Few weeks passed without a Fallout art show, party or rock concert.

Then the grunge explosion hit - and the little store became a temple. Battaglia and his staff (almost all musicians) started to run a kind of alternative tourist agency. "People flooded in, every day, from all over the world. Yet our mayor and city council ignored the whole thing totally. To this day, civically, it's still underappreciated."

To this day, pilgrims still visit Fallout. But, despite the fierce nostalgists, Hayes is keen to keep on moving. "I've worked in record stores in Aberdeen, Denver, Austin and here. So I know a record store needs change as well as personality."

So, what's the new game plan? "First off," says Hayes, "there will be a lot more of everything. More CDs, more records and additional musical genres. I especially want to help support the local jazz scene. I love jazz, and I know the Seattle scene is really swinging right now."

Both Battaglias voice relief that their store will be in sensitive hands. But each has a clear desire to move on, careerwise. Russ will pursue what has been an avocation: baking. Janet wants to learn about working with alternative medicine.

Yet, they have one parting, and cautionary, message. Says Russ, "We worked really hard to provide an antidote to mall culture. Tim intends to do the same. So we say, help him keep our community!"

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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