17/06/2020: Jon Tolley, owner of Banquet Records in Kingston, explains why he's decided not to re-open his record store just yet, but has found other ways to keep business going.
The Banquet Records team in pre-coronavirus times, celebrating Record Store Day in 2017.
I come into this with a Retail Management degree, and 25 years working in a record shop, and as a local councillor. I don’t come into this as a health expert.
Life has changed radically for our record shop over the past few months. Banquet was, I’m pretty sure, the first store to voluntarily close its doors with a belief that much of our industry wasn’t taking this situation seriously enough. We’ll be amongst the last to re-open, with that same belief.
Life has had to change. Through work and investment, rather than luck, we’ve always had a strong web presence. So we hit the ground running when we went online only. But even so there’s been big challenges. Supply chains slowed, and in some cases halted. Record Store Day in the air. Gigs off. Of our staff of 24, at some point more than two thirds have been off through illness, isolation or shielding. The biggest challenge to working practices has been social distancing in the store.
The store is now essentially a warehouse which pays high street rent. We’ve had to change hours and roles. What was previously a rock and roll lifestyle with a bunch of friends working on top of each other now has a working day starting at 8:00 and finishing at 10:00, with only one person allowed in a room at a time.
With people not talking to each other as much - unless WhatsApp counts - we’ve spent time and money improving information flows on our site and this is paying off.
But as much as the web sales have kept us going, that’s one revenue stream of three. The other two being events and over the counter sales have entirely dried up.
No-one knows when events will be back and I feel for friends working exclusively in that industry.
We do however know when shops are able to re-open.- June 15th. As the preamble says I’m no health expert, but I can’t be a part of it. Record shops are unique spaces. It’s why we love them. But you can’t ignore that, in our store at least, nearly everything you can buy in the shop you can also buy online. I believe in the High Street and in physical shops. The experience of browsing and talking to real people instead of algorithms is a hill I’ll die on. But not right now.
At this time, I have no confidence that we could effectively maintain social distancing in what is still a small shop. The experience of browsing and losing yourself in the shop will be gone. The last unsanitised hideaway of culture, just won’t work with actual sanitisation, a perspex screen and a time limited one in one out. My staff wouldn’t feel comfortable, I wouldn’t feel it fair on the responsible customers, and, moreover, I just don’t feel there’s the need at the moment.
We’ll monitor of course. We’ll learn from other stores’ (not exclusively record shops) experiences, we’re planning on an enhanced click and collect service, but for now, we’re online only, and that’s okay.