Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

Stuff happens in record shop afterlife

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

What happens to record shops after they die?

Stuff indoor market in Croydon
Stuff offers one possible future for dying record shops

We all know how downloads, supermarket CD offers and online shopping are making life tough for music retailers.

But every independent store is a small business in its own right, with a long-suffering owner, knowledgeable staff and a diehard band of loyal customers.

In times past, a good record shop was also a hangout for an entire generation and a focal point for fans' passions, as well as a place to hear the latest music and a barometer of new trends.

So can any of that be preserved when the shop closes down?

And do the owners keep trading in music by other means or do they find something else to do?

The south London suburb of Croydon used to have more than its fair share of notable record shops. But two of the biggest and best-known second-hand outlets have reached the end of the line recently.

"I liken record shops to antique shops," says Duncan Barnes of 101 Records, which is set to close its doors for the last time in the next few months. "Every town had an antique shop once, maybe two or three. They don't now."

But there is more than one way forward after the big shutdown - and another venture just a few streets away is blazing an unexpected trail.

Trading roles

Weaving in between the fruit-and-veg stalls of Surrey Street market, a grey-haired figure with a megaphone is braving the winter cold dressed in a T-shirt with a bright pink logo. "Roll up! Roll up! Come to Stuff!" he shouts.

Fired up with enthusiasm, he strides into the Dog and Bull pub, but forgets to put down the megaphone.

"A bottle of Holsten and a pint of ordinary, please," he bellows at the startled barman.

Stuff owner David Lashmar
David Lashmar is not shy about publicising his new venture

Not all the customers are amused. "I could tell you where to put that thing, if you like," says one curmudgeonly drinker. "Trust me, I'd make it fit."

The man making all the noise is David Lashmar, who spent more than three decades building his shop Beanos into the biggest second-hand record business in Europe, if not the world.

At one time, he had more than two million records in stock and 24 employees.

But Beanos is now a fading memory, having finally closed down last August after a long period on the critical list.

To stay in business, David has made a big transition, abandoning the retail sector and becoming a landlord instead.

In the shop's old premises in Middle Street, his new project, the Stuff indoor market, is facing its opening weekend.

Where racks of LPs, singles and CDs once sprawled, there is now a three-storey labyrinth of multi-coloured booths, stalls and shoplets, operated by tenants who pay a fixed rent.

On sale are flowers, chocolates, jewellery, baby clothes, candles, craft items. Anything, in fact, but records.

"It's bizarre, but I've never been offered more records in all the time I was trading than I am now," says David, adding that he misses "the lure of the chase" in trying to track down vintage vinyl for his old shop.

However, in a further sign of how music retail has declined, he was unable to find anyone prepared to continue the Beanos tradition by setting up a record stall.

Community spirit

Stuff's initial tenants are an intriguing mixture of market veterans and people who have never run any kind of retail venture before. But their general level of enthusiasm for the project is high.

"It's like Harry Potter-land in here, isn't it?" says Josie Carter, who runs the Wags Ooh La La dog boutique on the ground floor.

Stuff promotional postcards
Stuff's postcard campaign was not universally understood

Her stock consists of all manner of canine bling, from coats to sparkly accessories - everything you need, as she puts it, to "pimp your pet".

Josie has experience of breeding and grooming dogs, but it took the advent of Stuff to persuade her to become a stallholder.

"It's a lovely atmosphere," she says. "Shopping malls are all sterile, but it's a real community in here."

That community ethos incorporates a strong sense of humour. As part of a promotional campaign in the run-up to Stuff's opening, a series of 1970s-style postcards were produced featuring town landmarks and the cheeky slogan, "Stuff Croydon".

The local council failed to get the joke and took umbrage. "I had to explain to them that the word 'stuff' in the slogan was a noun and not a verb," says David.

Moving online

Back at 101 Records in nearby Keeley Road, Duncan Barnes has also been in the record retail business more than three decades.

His firm has a long-established local pedigree, having been formed out of the ashes of Croydon's much-loved Bonaparte Records, which rose to fame nationally in the late 1970s as a wholesale supplier of punk and new wave records before collapsing in 1982.

Interior of 101 Records, Keeley Road, Croydon
101 Records still has plenty of stock

It also spawned, one of the challengers to Amazon in the online CD sales sector, which is now a separate company based in Jersey.

Like Beanos, 101 Records is set to close in the first half of 2010, but Duncan is determined to continue trading as a second-hand record dealer.

"The majority of my living comes from the internet now through third-party sites like Amazon and eBay," he says.

"There will still be premises here if people want to visit, but it'll really be by prior arrangement only.

"We're still very much in the market for decent record collections. If somebody phones up, if they're miles and miles away, if it sounds good, I'll be there."

As for the building itself, Duncan has ambitious plans to host record fairs.

"We've got large premises here and we've had initial talks with the landlords," he says.

"It's in the early stages, but hopefully by early summer we'll be having our first record fair here."

Specialise to succeed

Meanwhile, independent record shops are finding new ways to fight back. A new website, indierecordshop, is dedicated to promoting non-chainstore outlets that sell new releases.

So what are the prospects for anyone brave enough to go into music retail today? David Lashmar has some advice.

"There is a market, very definitely, on vinyl," he says. "I think your digital formats are gone and CDs will make a poor man of you.

"But specialise and get it very finely honed. If you're just going to do northern soul, do northern soul - don't get tempted into doing punk or reggae.

"Become an expert. But you've got to go online to do it, you've got to sell online - you'll never get enough people through your door."

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