Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Thursday, 7 June 2007 09:30 UK

Rare groove shops facing extinction

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

In the heart of London's record-collecting district, more and more small shops are pulling down their shutters for the last time.

Mister CD in Berwick Street, London, with To Let sign in window
Mister CD is the latest Berwick Street music shop to close

After 15 years of trading, Mister CD in Soho's Berwick Street is the latest store to disappear - another victim of music downloads, internet shopping and CD price wars.

"I'm just waiting for a lawyer to call about the lease," says owner David Killington. "I'll probably be here another month, but after that, I've had enough. I can't manage any more."

Mister CD's imminent closure marks another chapter in the decline of what used to be renowned as the street with the greatest concentration of record shops in London.

Collectors from all over the world flocked to Berwick Street to look for vinyl rarities in its second-hand shops, while others were tempted by the chance to snap up new CDs at low prices.

Oasis album in window of Berwick Street shop
Oasis put Berwick Street in the album charts in 1995

The street was so well known as a haven for music fans that it even featured on the cover of one of the UK's all-time best-selling albums - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis.

But in the past six months, four shops in the area have already called it a day, while others face an uncertain future.

"People over 35 are still buying CDs, but no-one under 35 is," says Mr Killington. "We're just going the way of technology.

"It's the same as photo developing. Why pay for photo developing when you can print your own photos at home? Why buy CDs when you can burn your own CDs at home?

"It's like a pub. Once the old drinkers die off, if you don't get a new crowd of young drinkers, your pub dies too."

Reckless wrecked

Across the street from Mister CD, one of London's best sources of rare second-hand LPs and CDs used to reign supreme.

At its height, Reckless Records had two branches in Berwick Street, as well as further outlets in Islington and Camden.

Berwick Street, London, May 2007
Berwick Street's mix of shops has changed in the past 12 years

But as trade declined, the business shrank, until it went into liquidation at the end of January.

Zafar Chowdhry spent 18 years working for Reckless as a soul and dance music specialist. He says sales began falling in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, which damaged tourism.

"After that, the digital age started affecting us, eBay too. Instead of people coming in to us, they were selling things privately or they were downloading things.

"The strength of the pound made a difference. We used to get so many Japanese tourists and they stopped coming.

"Hip hop used to be king: we used to be able to sell it all the time. But it's incredible how records we used to sell for 20 a time now go for about 3 to 4.

"A lot of people that grew up with the records have got older and their priorities have changed, or they already had those records. The newer generation just wasn't interested in that kind of thing or the soul, jazz, jazz-funk kind of music."

Promo no-no

Wider changes in the music industry have also worked against the business model of second-hand record shops.

Many dealers used to rely on a steady flow of promotional copies of new releases, sold to them by music journalists and DJs in defiance of the "Not For Resale" warning stamped on each one.

Reckless Records in Berwick Street, London, after its closure
Reckless ceased trading after a slump in sales

But these days, many record labels no longer provide review copies for the music press and send out MP3 files instead.

"Record companies would have a band they would push. They would put out a lot of promos and send them out to as many DJs as they could," says Mr Chowdhry.

"We used to get so many promos of some records that we would end up turning them down. The companies just stopped doing it because it was obviously counter-productive.

"Many DJs would sell the records on to us and we would get them a month or two before the release date. We used to get a lot of Italians and Americans looking for the promos and sending them home.

"We had one guy from Switzerland who would come in every Tuesday - sometimes we would take 300 to 400 from this guy. But by the end, it would be more like 20 and sometimes he wouldn't buy anything at all, because there was nothing there any more."

Signs of life?

Other shops that have closed down recently include CD City in Berwick Street and Steve's Sounds in nearby Newport Court.

Sounds of the Universe in Broadwick Street, London
Some shops are still succeeding despite changing times

Both offered new CDs at bargain prices, until cut-price competition from supermarkets and rent hikes by landlords squeezed them out.

But it's not all bad news for music lovers. As that Oasis album cover from 1995 shows, the biggest shop in Berwick Street used to be owned by Nottingham-based Selectadisc.

In September 2005, Selectadisc abandoned its London store - but neighbouring independent store Sister Ray took over the premises, with owners Neil Brown and Phil Barton vowing not to let "an awful coffee shop" gain a foothold instead.

Further down and round the corner, in nearby Broadwick Street, eclectic dance music outlet Sounds of the Universe still thrives, with its own Soul Jazz label releasing everything from Brazilian post-punk to compilations of jungle and dubstep.

Out in the suburbs, too, the picture is brighter. Beanos of Croydon, once the country's biggest second-hand record shop, spent several months on the brink of complete shutdown, as reported by the BBC News website in December 2006.

Now, however, proprietor David Lashmar is preparing to unveil a new idea, Beanos Marketplace.

On the old store's first and second floors, an indoor market of small-scale traders will operate from individual stalls, while a slimmed-down Beanos concentrates on true collectors' rarities on the ground floor.

Beanos shop front showing SALE changed to SAVED
Despite selling off most of its stock, Beanos is still in business

"We're trying to reinvent ourselves in the current climate," says Mr Lashmar.

"Our CD sales have disappeared in the last 18 months, to downloads, and the old stalwarts have bubbled to the top again.

"We're selling vinyl, we're selling real records again, and we're selling our CDs for much less than we used to.

"The very rare records will always continue to sell and there's a huge demand now worldwide for those.

"I'm really scared about Berwick Street because I use it as a barometer of the business, with huge respect. It was a great area and it is dissolving in front of my eyes at the moment. That scares me and I don't want to copy whatever mistakes have been made in that area."

Clearly life is not about to get any easier for record shops. Back at Mister CD, David Killington jokingly suggests that record dealers should be protected in the same way as listed buildings.

"We should be listed - not the buildings, but the people," he says. "Because once we're gone, there ain't gonna be anyone new."


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