OPPOSITE my office, next to the Primark and the closed £1 discount store there’s a branch of HMV.
When I first started the job I’m currently in, discovering that there was a record shop (I still call them record shops) less than a minute’s walk from my desk was something of a thrill and soon, every lunchtime, I made my dutiful way there to spend some valuable browsing time and occasionally some money too.
Visiting an HMV was still a thrill, a treat for someone whose suburban town didn’t have one until well into the nineties. Back then it was Our Price which supplied my retail needs (which basically consisted of buying 12 inch singles by the Senseless Things) so a trip to the High Street’s “top dog” was special. Entering the huge store on London’s Oxford Street became like a visit to a museum or art gallery. I’d wander around with wide eyed wonderment looking at CD box sets like they were religious relics.
On one trip to HMV in Paris I stayed longer in the shop than I did up the Eiffel Tower, proudly leaving with a Serge Gainsbourg album which had French sleeve notes.
After moving to Liverpool, the enormous Church Street store became a beacon in the city centre. Stuffed full of knowledgeable staff, shopping there was a pleasurable experience with well stocked aisles, a great book section and even a specialist classical department which I’m told had a superb reputation. The day, as a student, you received your loan and proudly marched into the store to hand over a load of cash you’ll never have to pay back was a special moment indeed.
Over the last few days, I’ve been trying to recall those memories as I wander around the shop near my work.
The HMV of 2013 was clearly not the HMV of my carefree teenage days. In fact it was pretty horrible.
The music offering had shrunk and shrunk with the emphasis on seemingly endless 2-for-1 offers. CDs were stuffed unloved into increasingly smaller spaces in order to make way for t-shirts, DVDS, computer games and anything it was thought might sell. You could almost smell the desperation in there and I’m sure there were hundreds like me who no longer saw the opportunity for a quick browse as an essential part of any town centre shopping trip.
Much of the blame for HMV’s demise has of course been laid squarely at the feet of online retailers and downloadable music but I find it impossible not to think that HMV missed a massive opportunity to exploit mine and others’ reticence about computer purchasing.
Despite having an enormous record collection I can count on one hand the number of songs I’ve downloaded or purchased from Amazon. I like shops. I like browsing and I like silly, old fashioned things like sleeve notes, album covers and plastic shopping bags with record shop logos on.
Had HMV invested in an online strategy rather than trying to diversify into mail order, electronics and owning venues things might have been different. There are plenty of grumpy record collecting blokes like myself who would have trusted HMV’s brand, history and tradition to drag them kicking and screaming into the brave new world.
It would be cold hearted for any music lover not to feel a pang of nostalgia for HMV but great music is still being made and is still there to be discovered. Specialist record shops still thrive and only a few minutes walk away from HMV, two independent stores continue the job of capturing hearts and minds.
As for me, I’ll always have Paris.