From an interview with Warwick Brown that has been edited.
The shop opened in 1978 because punk records were hard to find.
The Australian record industry was run by one or two conservative chain stores.
They only played Top 40 type records.
So there was a void in the market for anyone who was interested in The Sex Pistols and The Clash and Nick Cave.
Even jazz and blues records were difficult to locate. That’s why this shop – and a bunch of other shops – started importing from the UK and the US.
We were one of the pioneer places which started to bring in that type of music.
The former owners would bring the records in by travelling oversees and meeting up with people.
This was done before mobiles and computers so there was a lot more legwork involved in bringing the music here.
But there has always been a very healthy arts scene in Melbourne. A lot of people were aware of what was happening elsewhere, reading about The Ramones and punk records and stuff.
And there’s always been that network of Triple R, PBS 106.7, the record stores and the independent bands playing in pubs across Melbourne. That was a big thing.
Before pokies machines, rock and roll bands brought people into pubs. Even down the corner – where the Station Hotel was –AC/DC played their first gigs.
Now it’s a fucking sandwich bar and some apartments.
People were desperate to have a place to buy The Ramones, The Clash and Velvet Underground records.
This place hasn’t changed at all since then. We still have the same posters and carpet that we had thirty years ago.
Over thirty years we’ve seen CD’s come in and die, and vinyl’s die off and become really big again. Punk and grunge became commercial and ubiquitous.
Like everything, we’ve been affected by streaming and downloading. We have been hit left, right and centre by all of these phenomena.
I started in 1984.
I was really a customer and a friend of mine ran one of these shops. After filling in and helping out I gradually progressed higher up and eventually bought the joint.
When I started it was far more hard-core independent punk. But that changed in the 1980’s. Now, we cater for a real cross-section of people. We’ve got records for the whole family.
We have all the records of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and the singers from that particular period. We also hold all the latest records. Music is probably the most loved past-time. But people these days are really into everything.
It’s not tied into one particular style.
We don’t bother with the internet that much.
It shits all of us.
I just got off eBay and they take nearly 15 percent fees. It’s not worth my time. We’ve gone the other way. I text my customers and say, “hey buddy, we’ve got your order.”
It’s a personal way of communicating. And if I know something exciting is coming out, I’ll offer customers a discount if they order before the record comes out.
For example, with Midnight Oil, they brought out three box sets so I texted Peter Garrett and asked if we could get some posters signed.
So it gives us an edge.
We’re the only shop in the world that Peter Garrett signed posters for. JB is offering the same product for $300, and we’re selling it for $275 plus a free poster signed by Midnight Oil.
You could charge extra and make a quick buck, or you could do that and keep your customers.
If you’ve studied retail you’ll see that – since 2000 – the scene started changing.
Globalisation meant that a lot of shopping happens in centres which are horrible. They aren’t nice places to go to. You go because they’re cheap and because they’re the only option.
But it’s the same shit everywhere. They have a sushi bar and a juice bar and a Burger Edge. From Tokyo to Frankston to Nunawading, they sell the same stuff.
Every city used to be idiosyncratic with unique shops everywhere.
It has all gone.
And Greville St – going back to the sixties – was the street.
It was all bong shops and great second hand clothes shops. The pioneer shops would fly to Europe and come back with original Levi jeans and cowboy boots.
When they came back, it was a big deal. People would flock to the shops and it was all vintage stuff.
Retail everywhere was really diverse. But since the Made in China phenomenon you won’t find the same things here.
The diversity has died in the ass.
So people are becoming tired of buying the latest gadget.
They’re going, “you know what, I’m sick of downloading.”
It’s a swamp of junk. You get thousands of things and you don’t listen to it or like it.
Our house is over it all.
What’s the latest thing they’re going to invent that’s going to thrill you?
Does it make your life any better?
People are sick of it.
As a result, you have seen people gravitating towards quality things.
They want quality food, craft beers, quality coffee. People are buying books and going back to the cinema. Foxtel never killed AFL footy. The crowds are bigger than ever.
And records are the real thing. It’s not nostalgia. People just prefer quality. They’d rather have 100 great records than 10,000 free iTunes things.
Prince, The Beatles, Nirvana. They were made as a record. With the cover and the art and all that stuff. It has to be experienced as a record.
It’s like going to a cinema with the surround sound, it’s so much better than watching it on a computer.
It’s not just a different experience, it’s a better experience.
A lot of kids nowadays want to have records.
More people are definitely picking up the hobby of buying a record player and collecting records. Bars and hotels are starting to play our records. Down at Classic Cinema in Elsternwick, they buy records from us and play them on their turntable.
We’ve decked out a couple of restaurants with records so they are playing vinyl. At Balaclava Station, the café plays records which adds an interesting vibe.
I find it all really cool. It says to me that people are starting to look for the experience of how things are meant to be.
They are appreciating quality products.
People have always been into records but it has gone in waves.
The early 90’s was just gigantic. When hip-hop and all that stuff hit, it was huge. Then, when the internet came along, a lot of people just went to downloading. CD’s and vinyls died and it looked like we were heading for catastrophe.
Rent was going through the roof at the same time.
It really crippled us a lot but we hung around out of sheer stupidity. We thought, “we’ll see how we go this year.”
It got very difficult but we persevered. Then, fortunately, people decided they preferred a smaller amount of quality stuff then a lot of materialistic shit.
Hopefully Greville St will become more debauched over time but, with Donald Trump running around, who the hell knows what will happen.
By Aron Lewin.