words / EMMA DAVIS
With the sun setting quickly on all 102 Canadian HMV stores, Sunrise Records is gearing up to take over four former HMVs in Ottawa, including their Rideau Centre location, and revamp the mall music store with more vinyl and support for Ottawa artists.
The vinyl announcement comes directly from Sunrise Records President Doug Putman, who says the passions of Canadian music lovers, and his own, informed his decision. Putman began collecting vinyl around the same time he bought Sunrise, and four years later he’s still touting the addictive quality of buying albums.
“I think everybody likes to own something and to have a physical product,” he said. “When you go in to buy vinyl, you’ve got some of this great artwork . . . I think it’s just something great that you’re able to collect, or you’re able to listen to it. It goes on your shelf, and you own that, you have that forever.”
The 2016 vinyl sale numbers from Nielsen Canada are also singing the praises of purchasing albums: in one year, record sales grew 29 per cent nation-wide.
In response, Putman’s Sunrise stores will stock close to 3000 titles, nearly 30 times the product sold at HMV, and hopefully introduce mall rats to vinyl.
“I think for us, we’re there to get customers engaged and willing to buy into it, to offer an overall experience with vinyl,” he said.
President of Isotope records Gerry McGhee is looking forward to the boost Sunrise could give vinyl. McGhee said the downfall of HMV was in putting movies and memorabilia before music, something he’s confident Sunrise won’t do.
“They were selling earplugs and earphones and cups and all that kind of stuff, you have to walk to the back of the store if you wanted to find any CDs,” he said.
McGhee paints a more positive picture of new Sunrise stores: a fresher, more focused store, with vinyl and CDs up front, and music-savvy staff ready to introduce you to your new favourite band.
However, independent stores like Compact Music are skeptical about Sunrise’s push to enter the vinyl game. The Bank Street music store is covered in posters, packed with bins and shelves of CDs and records. Concert posters, stickers and album covers paper the walls. When owner Ian Boyd calls his store a “high impact” music experience, he isn’t kidding. And he doesn’t think Sunrise, or Doug Putman, could match Compact’s music collection, or obsession with vinyl.
“If you shopped at HMV, they’re [stocking] the same 40 titles. They got shipments almost daily but it was always the same shit. So you never saw anything new,” said Boyd. “It’s going to look like an HMV, with a rebranded HMV store. I don’t think that gives him his own identity.”
That “mall quality” means Sunrise’s new stores may not be able to compete with Ottawa’s niche independents with built-in client bases, according to The Record Centre owner John Thompson. His used record store is a testament to his 30-year love affair with vinyl. A shelf displaying fresh albums and old favourites hovers over bins of records, and opposite the shelves Thompson devoted a full wall to vintage stereos, turntables, speakers and amps. Unopened boxes of albums addressed to Record Centre Records sit next to the cash; new additions to the seventeen records Thompson’s label has already released.
“We have a lot of regulars here. We order stuff for them. They know they’ll find a certain quality of record,” said Thompson. “I don’t know if they’ll be able to do that, it’ll be interesting to see.”
However, he doesn’t doubt that some local stores will feel the heat once Sunrise opens in Ottawa.
“I think every few dollars he takes in is a few dollar an indie store won’t be taking in, so who’s he going to hurt?” said Thompson. “There’s only so many dollars to go around . . . Somebody’s going to feel the pinch.”
According to Doug Putman, Sunrise isn’t looking to pinch anyone. Instead of competing, he said he wants to grow the community of vinyl lovers across Canada.
“It’s really about promoting that entire community, and whether they’re buying from me or an independent, we’re just thrilled that they’re buying into music,” said Putman.
Part of that, said Putman, is promoting local artists. Each Sunrise store will give managers the power to put local artists in their stores, or email head office to get their products in stores across Canada.
Putman’s promise seems too good to be true for local musician Gary Franks. A musician for 15 years, Franks previously played with Roberta Bondar, and is currently signed to Record Centre Records as the bassist in garage-rock band Telecomo. He says his music career has been fostered by the independent music community in Ottawa, and after working in independent record stores around the city, he wouldn’t think of taking his newly-released album to Sunrise.
“Even if they’re going to give their managers a chance to curate locally, I wouldn’t be surprised if within six months, they really start just focusing on what is a proven seller. So less local artist and more Kanyes and Mileys,” he said.
Aside from how unlikely he said he thinks getting a prime spot in the new stores will be, Franks said he thinks Sunrises’ focus on local talent isn’t genuine.
“I do feel like it’s just more of a grab . . . people want the local tip, the handmade tip, the organic tip, the whatever,” he said. “I don’t know why I would go to Sunrise if I could go to Vertigo, or go to Birdman, or go to Record Centre.”
In the meantime, Franks said he hopes to see mall rats and music lovers alike turn to local record stores for their vinyl fix.
“I would much rather people buy my record from Record Centre or Birdman than from some other major,” he said. “I’d rather see local businesses thrive.”