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November 14, 2013 4:07 pm
It is the smell that hits you first. It reeks of musty nostalgia. On the Beat, a record shop in central London, just north of Soho, is crammed with racks of fading vinyl; the wall is adorned with posters, newspaper clippings about musicians as well as black-and-white photographs of artists ranging from Hot Chocolate to Art of Noise.
Perversely, just as Tim Derbyshire has decided there is no future in his record shop, sales have picked up. That is down to the publicity surrounding his unusual decision to sell the second-hand store on eBay, the online marketplace, for £300,000.
It is an unusual offer. While eBay has about 5,000 listings for businesses on the UK site, these are typically to sell marketing and professional services businesses, not entire shops complete with £100,000 worth of stock.
Mr Derbyshire’s advertisement states: “Live your dream and enter a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle . . . A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live the High Fidelity life”. Curious shoppers have been coming in to see this time capsule, hidden in a side street populated by Spanish bars. A laconic Mr Derbyshire, dressed smartly in a navy turtleneck and matching blazer with a handkerchief in its pocket, is sanguine – or perhaps, he suggests, “jaded”.
He has never bought or sold anything on the internet and had to ask his girlfriend to list the shop on eBay.
The price is set at £300,000 because he wants to deter time-wasters. So far, he has had two offers of £125,000. One was a 19-year-old who wanted Mr Derbyshire to persuade his parents of the wisdom of investing in the shop rather than university tuition fees. And one “dodgy” caller from Amsterdam, who Mr Derbyshire is convinced wanted to use the shop to launder money. There have also been “a couple of record-shop owners sniffing around trying to get it cheap”.
Over the 34 years he has run this shop, he has seen some of his loyal clientele grow up – he recalls some who came in their school uniform, bunking off lessons, and later brought in their own children.
Owning a record store need not be the sure-fire way to haemorrhage money it once was. Britain’s remaining 300 independent records shops are enjoying something of a small comeback. Vinyl sales in the UK have so far doubled this year to more than 550,000 LPs – their highest level in a decade – according to figures published by the British Phonographic Industry . Sales have been helped by releases from Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys and David Bowie. And with new records from Arcade Fire and Pearl Jam due to be released in the run-up to Christmas, the BPI estimates more than 700,000 LPs, worth a total of £12m, could be sold by the end of the year – the most since 2001.
Sean Bidder, creative director of Vinyl Factory, a record label and vinyl presser, says a younger audience is discovering the tangibility of records. “In an age of endless choice and instant disposability, playing vinyl provides a slow-release pleasure whose appeal is growing – providing an escape from the incessant demands of the digital age and a chance to be enveloped by sound.”
Today, a thirtysomething man dressed in black, with long hair and a purple goatee, asks if there is anything by rock and roll band Dogs d’Amour? An 18-year-old Pole sporting a baseball cap declares the shop “awesome”, despite not owning a record player. At 4pm a young woman from a neighbouring film company brings Mr Derbyshire his daily cup of tea and two chocolate biscuits.
Regular customers include Jarvis Cocker, the gangly former frontman of Pulp, and the shop has also been visited by superstars such as Paul McCartney and David Bowie (neither of whom bought anything).
Independent record shops in general have been enjoying a modest revival this year, with vinyl sales in the UK so far doubling (see box).
Yet despite all this he has had enough. The rent is about to double, and like other independent retailers in the area, he is leaving the West End.
A second-hand record shop, he says, will never make anyone rich. “If you’re at the stage in your life when you don’t have to worry about making money but can live the bohemian life”, the advertisement states, then the shop is for you.
“It’s been a labour of love. I didn’t have a wife and children. If I did, I probably would have had to get a proper job.” He does not have expensive tastes, nor does he own a car or a house.
The store’s location, he says, is in a “twilight zone”: there is little passing trade, which on the plus side means that no one comes in requesting the latest Justin Bieber or One Direction.
Raised in Bournemouth by his single mother who worked as a cleaner and bartender, he did not have the money to buy records as a kid but would listen to pirate radio station Radio London on his transistor under the bedclothes. “It was really crackly,” he says. In 1972, Mr Derbyshire moved to London, where he worked as a graphic designer, after ditching hairdressing. Seven years later, together with two friends, he decided to take over the record shop.
“It was easier back then”, he says. “There were lots of second-hand record shops . . . Now you’d call it a collector’s shop.”
Today, he reflects on the nature of the work: “Record shops are expensive to run.” A good day may garner sales of £1,000, a bad day, £50. He never has two good days on the trot. His working life has been less a career, more a full-time hobby. “For me to carry on it would have to be a business.”
It’s been a labour of love. I didn’t have a wife and children. If I did, I probably would have had to get a proper job
- Tim Derbyshire
Bob Stanley, DJ, musician with the band St Etienne, and author of Yeah Yeah Yeah: the Story of Modern Pop, is a regular at the shop. “It’s a proper old-fashioned shop,” he says. “There are not many like that any more.” He is not surprised it is closing. “Trading records is harder work than people think . . . you don’t get people bringing records in any more with no idea of their value. You have to put notes through people’s doors, travel hundreds of miles to places to find rare records.”
Kim Bayley, director-general of the Entertainment Retailers Association, which organises the annual record store day, agrees that record shops have to work harder than they used to. “Today it’s all about experience, having artists in stores, adding theatre to the music, selling a retail concept and making it a place where people want to go.”
She cites Rough Trade East as an example of the new “retail experience”. The independent record store, based in east London, has a coffee shop and stage. This month it will host events by Nick Hornby, the author of High Fidelity , and Boy George.
People like buying vinyl in shops, Ms Bayley says. “They like the tactile nature of records and they know that unlike online orders, it will not turn up in the post dog-eared or broken.”
Next week Mr Derbyshire will turn 60 and he does not have the energy, he says, to turn the shop round. A one-time DJ too, he is also now too claustrophobic to socialise in crowds.
He is hopeful a rich dreamer will buy it to indulge their fantasy life.
For many people – primarily men – who feel trapped in a soulless career, the dream of owning a record shop is a powerful fantasy. Johan Kugelberg, who runs Sinecure, an independent publisher that produces books on music, says there is a “romantic notion, rooted in nostalgia, of standing in a shop connected to the soundtrack of your life”, as well as being part of a select group of connoisseurs.
Mr Kugelberg, who has recently curated hip-hop producer Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000-strong record collection for Cornell University’s hip-hop collection, thinks that a museum should buy the shop to show future generations what they looked like.
Mr Derbyshire is unmoved by the suggestion. “It’s eBay or nothing, really.” What happens if no one makes a good enough offer? “I don’t know. I’ll find some storage for the records somewhere. That’s life, really.”
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