Virus has vinyl stores in a spin – but owners prove they’ve survived worse

Norfolk's record stores have backed this paper's Shop Local campaign. Picture: PA/Archant

Norfolk's record stores have backed this paper's Shop Local campaign. Picture: PA/Archant - Credit: PA

Record stores survived the greatly exaggerated ‘death of vinyl’ – but now these beloved independents face another existential crisis.

Paul Mills, owner of Soundclash on St Benedicts in Norwich.
Picture by: Sonya Duncan

Paul Mills, owner of Soundclash on St Benedicts in Norwich. Picture by: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Norfolk has always had a thriving music scene and much-loved record shops – many of which have been running for decades.

But with the rise of streaming record stores were always in for a tough ride – with LP sales falling from 1.4m sold in the UK in 1995 to just 200,000 in 2007.

Even then, these figures are vastly smaller than those of old – comparably when the Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band it sold more than 250,000 copies in the UK in its first week of release in 1967.

But vinyl is back in vogue. Entertainment Retailers Association research shows that August saw vinyl sales rise 3pc year-on-year.

Paul Mills, owner of Soundclash on St Benedicts in Norwich.
Picture by: Sonya Duncan

Paul Mills, owner of Soundclash on St Benedicts in Norwich. Picture by: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

MORE: Shop Local: ‘Without your support many independents won’t be here next year’


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The Record Store in King’s Lynn never bowed to the pressure, with owner Tony Winfield only opening in 1996 when sales of vinyl were already plummeting and online music sharing site was Napster looming on the digital horizon.

“Everyone thought I was mad when I opened a record shop. But decades on and I’m still here and we still have a loyal customer base,” he said.

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“But the pandemic has wounded the industry – just like it has wounded all businesses. What’s different for me is that the store has become more of a hobby. It does provide income for me but I don’t depend on it the way I used to. As long as I can make ends meet I will stay open but we do it as much for our customers as we do anything else.”

It is for stores like this – independent businesses which work tirelessly to bring a diverse and meaningful offering to our community – that this paper has launched its Shop Local campaign.

Shop Local is a use-it-or-lose-it plea to shoppers to consider independent traders and businesses this Christmas – safeguarding some of our region’s best loved brands in the face of a potential tightening of restrictions. Indeed, Mr Winfield’s store was steered through lockdown thanks to its overheads being covered by a government grant.

“There will always be a market for vinyl records because people love to buy and collect them. It’s also less likely if someone wants a vinyl they’ll buy it online because they want to see it,” he said.

“But the week before we were told to lockdown was the worst week I have ever had in the store. I shut before Boris told us to because it just wasn’t worth it. If there’s a second lockdown – especially without any financial support – I’d have to look at how temporarily we’d close.”

Back in 1991 queen of pop Madonna, heavy metal hell-raisers Guns ‘n’ Roses and Irish rockers U2 dominated the hit parade – and in Norwich vinyl favourite Soundclash in St Benedicts first open its doors.

Owner Paul Mills said: “We are seeing a rise in the sale of vinyls because it’s becoming more mainstream now – you can buy albums in the supermarket. For us we’re a small independent selling a lot of new stuff and some classic reissues – but we’ve always sold a lot of them.”

He said that half of his income has dropped off since reopening in June because he is no longer acting as a box office for venues across the city.

“No where is open so half of our cash has vanished overnight. We’re hugely relying on vinyl sales and I have been truly overwhelmed by the support we have had from our customers,” he said.

But he implored shoppers to do what they can to back the music industry as a whole.

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“I could say ‘if you’ve got cash back from a gig that was cancelled come and spend it with us’. But the problem is that might be good for Soundclash for five minutes but it doesn’t support the music scene as a whole in the long run and it’s on its knees.

“Everything works in partnership in this industry – tours and releases, which go along with the venues and the sound engineers and the promotions,” he said.

Mr Mills added that fewer workers in the city centre have impacted his bottom line.

Indeed, data from Centre for Cities shows that only 33pc of the city’s workforce has returned compared to pre-lockdown figures.

“People coming in and supporting us is what’s keeping us alive – keeping many of our independents alive. It’s the sort of situation where if you don’t use these stores you love they’ll be gone,” he said.

“When you’re spending locally you’re supporting the jobs of local people and building a community. When you’re ordering from Amazon think of the carbon footprint and what you’re contributing to – the fact that people like me go direct to the sources of record labels and artists and then sell it straight to you,” Mr Mills said.

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