The Record Centre puts a new spin on the growing vinyl market
Photos by Andre Gagne
John Thompson isn’t afraid to go on the record. In fact, he welcomes it! What do you do when you have about 15,000 records at home with a want to only increase that mountain of LPs, 45s and 12”s? Well, if you’re Thompson the only logical choice was to open a record store and then make more records yourself.
The Record Centre opened about a year and a half ago and it quickly became Hintonburg’s little slice of paradise for vinyl collectors, audiophiles or those who simply want to see what Jimi Hendrix’s autograph looks like.
As the music industry continues to report a decline in CD sales –a 31% drop in the US last year- vinyl sales hit “record” levels in 2015 surpassing 12 million for the first time since the mid-90s. That’s a staggering growth of 260%! The vinyl resurgence doesn’t show any signs of letting up, and this is music to the ears of indie record storeowners like Thompson. According to a Nielsen report released in January, indie record stores like The Record Centre drove nearly half of all vinyl sales.
“I think indie record stores can thrive in this digital age if we do certain things right,” says Thompson citing sound quality as one of the main draws to collecting vinyl. “The hunt is also a big part of vinyl; having a serious wish list memorized that you bring with you to every record store, Sally Ann, show and yard sale. The hunt for vinyl is fun!”
Patrons could spend hours in the store on that hunt. The shop boasts 100,000 LPs, though Thompson is quick to point out there are plenty more in storage. As you sort through the racks for some classic jazz, vintage Beatles or perhaps something local, you might be distracted by the décor. Among the stacks of records are artsy guitars, posters, autographs from Joni Mitchell, Elvis and Kurt Cobain, to name a few, clocks made out of old albums and a slew of vintage audio equipment. There are also a few barber chairs from the previous business tossed in for good measure. The speakers above will certainly be playing something to groove to, but if it’s not your thing, Thompson, who could play some German progressive rock or 80s post punk all day, encourages you to pop down to one of the listening stations and spin whatever you like.
Some days you might event catch a live show or, if you cheer loud enough, maybe make your way onto a record yourself. Supporting local musicians and offering live shows in the store has always been part of Thompson’s agenda. Since the opening night performance by local bands The Split and the Hiltorons packed the place, the Record Centre has hosted performances by Great Lake Swimmers, Bloodshot Bill and a memorable show by Whitehorse.
“I remember the opening night with the Split and Hilotrons being such an amazing night. All our friends turned up. The bands killed it, people spilling out the front door on to the sidewalk, and the room just sounded so good,” Thompson says. “I knew that night that we were on to something special!”
The store just hosted concert number 100 and often musicians will simply stroll in to play the piano while patrons shop. Though he says promoting the shows and getting word of mouth out that the place is a great spot for live music can be difficult, Thompson says that there are more ways to measure success then the amount of money you take in. Most shows are by donation with proceeds going to the performers even if what was raised just buys them lunch.
Last April, Thompson launched Record Centre Records to release an LP by the Hilotrons, a project he says opened up his eyes to the possibilities of recording locals and releasing albums on a smaller label.
If you miss a performance, Thompson, ever the audiophile has you covered. 80 of the 100 shows have been recorded live off the floor and are posted to the website under their Listening Station section for free. Recent uploads include performances by the Steve Bilodeau Trio, Future States and The Beeched Wailers. The Whitehorse show is also up there.
“Once we had secured our new location I realized it would be perfect for hosting shows,” Thompson says. “This 100 year old shoe box shaped room with the original tin ceilings just happens to sound amazing!”