I write this from Los Angeles as I'm out here covering the Grammys, but my heart remains on London’s Oxford Street.
What doesn’t remain on London’s most famous shopping destination anymore is a big record shop, as HMV’s famous flagship store was one of the outlets not to be taken on by new owners Sunrise Records.
Everyone in the music business will welcome the survival of the last chain standing in Britain’s once glorious record shop landscape, even in reduced form. But it’s a real shame that central London – an area synonymous with music and music shops – will no longer have a music megastore to call its own.
Part of that is because, as a teenager, my record shopping visits to London would always include a trip to the twin Oxford Street citadels of HMV (their former gigantic flagship store at Oxford Circus, now a Sports Direct) and Virgin Megastore, as well as Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus.
Every record shop that disappears removes physical music as an option for a swathe of music lovers, and many of those sales will disappear forever
But it’s not just nostalgia that says a city built on music and the music industry should be able to sustain a large record shop as well as the many brilliant independent stores, however high the rents. Time will tell if Sunrise has another flagship location in mind – owner Doug Putman hints at such a move in this week's Music Week – but a central London store has symbolic value beyond its retail equivalent.
Here in LA, for example, the shuttering of Tower on Sunset (still standing and still branded, but no longer serving) was a metaphor for an industry in decline, just as the bustling Amoeba Music further down the same street visualises its recovery. Yet it was striking how many news reports on HMV’s administration featured people surprised to hear the chain still existed. Every record shop that disappears removes physical music as an option for a swathe of music lovers, and many of those sales will disappear forever.
Ironically, I relived my youthful pilgrimages during HMV Oxford Street’s last few hours of trading. I popped in for journalistic reasons, but left with a bagful of records – precisely the sorts of spontaneous purchases that can’t – and won’t – be replicated without a convenient High Street outlet.
As the slogan goes: London is open. Surely its biggest record shop should be too?