My response to ‘The future of the High Street: a tale of two record shops’

The excellent Powell Dobson Urbanists (@PDUrbanistsblog recently surmised about the future of the High Street in light of the demise of HMV. 

The blog concluded that:

there is much that can be achieved from small business when they work collectively, collaboratively and imaginatively

It cites independent record shops as an example of the benefits of doing so. I absolutely agree and will in due course publish an interview with a local trader who has tried to do the same, though in a specific locale rather than in a specific trade.

The prospect that independent record shops can now thrive because city and town centres are deprived of the presence of the ‘big boys’ (Virgin, HMV, etc.), however is not guaranteed. My response to the blog is below.


I certainly agree with your final point about the merits of collectivisation and collaboration for small retailers but the lack of an HMV (and Virgin, Our Price, etc. before it) potentially poses more of a challenge to independent record stores than if it were to have continued trading.

I recall my uncle Nick Todd, former owner of Spillers Records in Cardiff/Caerdydd, welcoming the location of MVC (remember that?!) on The Hayes immediately opposite Spillers (before it moved to the Morgan Arcade) because it brought music-buying customers to the Hayes allowing Spillers to compete with it directly on price and the shopping and browsing experience. Nick felt MVC could not compete and so relished its presence over the road. Certainly Spillers was invariably cheaper and a more enjoyable, unpredictable shopping experience with punters talking about their purchases, gigs they had been to, new bands and the like. In contrast MVC was sterile, bland and didn’t generate interaction between punters. And more expensive.

So to say that “we feared for the survival of independent record shops who were being squeezed out of existence by the corporate behemoths of HMV, Virgin Megastore and Borders” is slightly reductionist. It was never as simple as that (incidentally, Borders, too, has come and gone from The Hayes). The presence of these chains offered a platform for an independent to compete. By there being none left not only removes the competition but also the platform. Graham Jones in his splendid book ‘Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened to Record Shops?’ lays the blame for the demise of independent record stores at poor business planning on the part of some, a race-to-the-floor attitude by distributors, and changes to urban design. Changing shopping patterns and downloading are but two of several factors

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