If you’re living in the UK, you’ll know that it’s already been an entire year since all record stores, alongside other ‘non-essential’ shops, were forced to close their doors. Thanks to COVID, the past 12 months have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for record stores across Bristol and, of course, the country.
With new rules implemented seemingly overnight, it raised many questions on how independent Bristol record stores, which relied heavily upon in-store sales, would survive.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at that time. We didn’t qualify for any government financial support, but we were able to continue sending out online orders,” said Specialist Subject Records’ Kay Stanley.
For some, including myself, it was initially easy to assume that record stores were doing well. What with more people stuck at home, reading books, watching TV and, most importantly, listening to music. But how accurate is this assumption? How have the past 12 months really affected Bristol’s record stores?
Well, in short, there seems to be no clear cut answer to this question. All stores are different, and therefore come with their own sets of challenges, expectations and successes.
“I thought being a predominantly dance music shop that people would stop buying dance music, but that hasn’t happened,” said an Idle Hands spokesperson.
“Lockdown didn’t hit my business that hard as I’m lucky enough to be able to have an online side. I’ve sold on EBay and Discogs for years, it’s a necessity if you have a shop now as people buy so much online,” Prime Cuts’ Michael Savage told Arend.
For some, the consecutive lockdowns have heavily reversed the ‘upward trajectory’ they were experiencing before COVID’s impact.
“Lockdown most definitely has not been positive for my record shop. My business was on an upward trajectory prior to the first lockdown. We have been closed for more than half of the last twelve months,” said Centre for Better Grooves’ Gordon Montgomery.
And, for others, the pandemic’s strain is felt across multiple areas of the business.
“We also run a record label, and most bands we work with have been unable to write together or record,” says Stanley.
With a large portion of independent record store operations involving in-store sales, for some, the transition to selling online has been either difficult or has not provided the same level of profit as having their doors open to browsing customers.
“Internet, i.e. Discogs sales have increased substantially, but this does not replace the lost shop sales, down by 80%”, reports Montgomery.
“My own forecast is that some record shops will never reopen”.
Despite this prediction, many record stores are still hanging on and are hopeful that they will make it safely out the other side of the pandemic thanks to continuous work, experimentation and customer support.
“At [the start of the pandemic], our website was adjunct to the shop; people nearly cleared it out in the first few weeks! This really helped go into the pandemic feeling like the shop could survive,” said Idle Hands.
“We did a series of ‘Distant Together’ live streams, launched a podcast series called Flick Through and worked hard to stay visible – thankfully, people have supported us, and online sales picked up”, said Stanley.
But wait, there’s more.
If the COVID-19 chaos wasn’t enough to think about, a new set of challenges have recently presented themselves that, for many, have caused the pandemic to take a back seat.
One word: Brexit.
“We are now trying to get our heads around the implications of Brexit. This may be a bigger challenge, I currently have two boxes stuck somewhere around the English channel – both were ordered over a month ago. That’s the best part of £1000 paid for and not going anywhere,” said Idle Hands.
“I have to negotiate deals now that were previously instant. Paperwork has gone from five minutes to hours.” said Savage.
“At the point where we’re coming out of a difficult year as business owners, I now have to deal with Brexit which will negatively affect the rest of my career”.
The road from March 2020 to March 2021 has certainly been a long and bumpy one for record stores across Bristol and the UK, and it’s not quite over yet.
Today, we are nearing the end of lockdown 3.0, and it goes without saying that store owners are counting down the days until they can once again reopen their doors and regain some normality.
“We miss our customers; we miss the Exchange; we miss gigs and the bands we work with!” said Stanley.
To find out more about the stores mentioned in this article, please see below. Support your local record stores now!
Centre for Better Grooves
Location: Gloucester Road, BS7
Genres: Jazz, rock, funk/soul, electronic, blues, pop and more
Location: St Paul’s, BS2
Genres: Breakbeat, disco, dubstep, electronica, techno, house and more
Location: Gloucester Road, BS7
Specialist Subject Records
Location: Old Market, BS2
Genres: Punk, hardcore, indie