Independent record stores thrive in ELL boroughs

Rough Trade East. Pic: Tomas Jivanda

HMV may be on the brink of collapse, but there’s no shortage of lively independent record stores in the ELL boroughs. Motivated by a renewed interest in vinyl, local businesses are defying the trend and not only surviving, but thriving.

Kristina Records in Dalston was opened in 2011 by a three man team who have years of experience working in record shops. At the ultra cool plywood fitted store on Stoke Newington Road, there’s not a CD in sight.

The records, all hand picked by the owners, are displayed like art in a gallery. This representation of records as special, tangible objects is something that seems to resonate well with customers, and although the business has only had one full trading year, sales are doing well.

Jack Rollo, one of the co-founders, believes interest in vinyl is at its strongest for years with both customers and musicians: “Right now many more new releases are coming out on vinyl than any time in the last 10 years and more and more people are realising and remembering the joys of owning and listening to vinyl. We are constantly getting new customers who have just bought a record player after years of CD and MP3 use.

“Whilst CD sales are dwindling, vinyl is becoming the preferred format for a new kind of informed passionate collector and consumer.

“Everything we stock is chosen and curated by us. We aim to only sell music we believe in rather than trying to appeal to everyone.” Rollo believes this is the key difference between Kristina Records and the bankrupt high street music chains.

In Tower Hamlets, set back behind the curry houses of Brick Lane, sits Rough Trade East, the crown prince of independent record stores. Opened in 2007 as the company’s new flagship site, the warehouse space dwarfs the original shop which sits in Notting Hill.

With a busy coffee area at the front, a stage which hosts in-store performances at the back and stacks of CDs, vinyl and books in between, there is a constant buzz about the place.

For Kit MacArthur who works in Rough Trade East, vinyl is having a clear impact on business, with the surge of younger buyers getting into the format: “Vinyl sales are really big at the moment, I don’t know if they’re bigger than CDs but I’d say maybe. Sales have definitely gone up a lot in the last couple of years and a lot of young teenagers are buying a lot more vinyl now.”

The store has become a hangout space for musical and creative people, like so many record shops have been in years gone by. There is a feeling of history, reminiscent of back when the Notting Hill store spawned Rough Trade Records, or more recently when Dubstep was born out of Big Apple in Croydon.

The Big Apple Records shop may have now disappeared, but in Croydon, sitting minutes apart are the quintessentially independent 101 Records and 50s, 60s and 70s specialists Memory Lane Records.

Although Mike Reynolds, owner of Memory Lane, admits general sales have crashed, strong sales of rare vinyl means the business, which opened in 1984, won’t be going anywhere soon.

Like Kristina Records all the stock is hand chosen by the team and similarly, Reynolds sees this personal touch as something which sets the store apart from other music retailers: “We try to be as helpful to collectors and archivists as we can, it’s not all about making money, we’re a business that wants to help collectors complete their collections.

“If you go into HMV or some of these majors and say: ‘Have you got anything by x?’ And the person serving you says: ‘I’ve never heard of them, who are they?’ That is not good service and is not what people are looking for.”

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