Other than a few months in early 2007, I’ve not lived or worked within walking distance of a record shop since the mid 1980s. So whilst I think that records shops are undoubtedly A Good Thing, a combination of the geographical distance and the ease of internet purchasing, mean that my custom in the last few years has been restricted to trips to the big (and not so big) cities. But wherever I am, I will always try and spend some cash in the local shops.
In that time Avalanche has been the shop I’ve visited most often, principally because work takes me to Edinburgh semi-frequently. Even though the Grassmarket shop is far less handily placed for me on work trips than the former Cockburn Street premises were, as often as not I’ll manage in.
Ten years ago, Avalanche was my favourite shop – period. It had a great selection of CDs and was competitively priced too. Visiting the shop tended to be a wallet emptying experience.
But even in the last couple of years at its old location in Cockburn Street, the difficult environment for selling music was taking its toll. The stock held was clearly less on each visit and sometimes I couldn’t get what I was looking for.
It’s a pattern that’s continued to the Grassmarket shop and, being honest, sometimes I find it hard to spend any money at all.
The general reasons for the decline are not hard to pinpoint – less and less physical music is being sold, there’s fierce competition from internet sales and there’s this fairly serious recession going on. Pretty much ALL retailers are toiling. Whether or not there are local factors affecting Avalanche, the truth is that there are record shops all over the country closing on a regular basis.
If I only occasionally manage to buy records in person at Avalanche, I am a far more frequent visitor to the Avalanche blog. For some time proprietor Kevin Buckle has been documenting not just Avalanche’s difficulties but that of the wider independent record shop sector.
There’s been some sobering information contained which makes me wonder how any shops survive at all other than in the biggest cities.
Yet whilst I’ve found it fascinating, there seems to be a view that Kevin’s blog posts and twitter feed are nothing but moans about the demise of his business blaming other folk for his problems.
Occasionally that might be true but I’ve always read the blog from that wider perspective. And if Kevin is outspoken on a lot of issues (and I wouldn’t agree with all his views) I do like his honesty and the fact that he is passionate about his livelihood.
What shops like Avalanche (and One Up in Aberdeen, similarly under threat) need to survive is a translation of the goodwill that undoubtedly exists (check out the One Up Facebook page) into hard sales.
I hope I’m wrong but I can’t help but be pessimistic about the fate of independent record shops. There’s been a tide flowing for years now and it’s difficult to see how that can be turned around.
Yet I can’t think of one reason why the loss of Avalanche would be a good thing. It may be just one more statistic in the decline of a particular retail sector nationally perhaps but it would be a significant loss for Edinburgh and the east of Scotland in general.