Fopp flops, and other pop shop ops
it is beyond the mainstream that things get really interesting. A few hundred yards into Soho are a score of different worlds: the specialist retailers. Take the dance and electronic music specialist Phonica. Tastefully decked out in wood and with a Perspex bubble chair in the window, it is defiantly leftfield, with 90% of its sales coming from vinyl.
These days, a small independent store dabbling in anything remotely mainstream would be commercial suicide[...]
a Central Line trip to Brick Lane in east London finds the most optimistic view of the independent record store. This is where Rough Trade will open its ambitious superstore later this month, after closing its minuscule Covent Garden branch. The 5,000 sq ft space will incorporate a coffee shop, a "snug" (in other words a lounging area, with free wi-fi) and a performance space. The aim, says store director Stephen Godfroy, is to "rediscover the joy of browsing" - connecting retail with the overall music experience, and attracting en masse the sort of fans who will pay a premium for this kind of service and recommendation.
A worthy aim, and probably the best bet for keeping record shops alive (I write here as someone who's previously been accused of keeping Manchester's Piccadilly Records afloat through my vinyl habit). The irony is that one of my all-time favourite friendly independent record shops was, some ten years ago or more, Fopp in Edinburgh.
OK, so Fopp accelerated its growth by changing its emphasis from having a real quality and depth of product to a pile-em-high/sell-em-cheap philosophy, but it lost something of its soul in the process. They did remain probably the best of the chains, and I was certainly no stranger to their Sheffield store (preferred it when it was the Warp shop, of course), but they did seem to bite off more than they could chew when they bought the Music Zone chain out of administration earlier this year. The two chains always made for an interesting comparison - while their basic model was very similar, Fopps were usually pretty pleasant, vaguely cool places to shop, while Music Zones were simply awful, with the fly-by-night air of a permanent closing-down sale.
The Sheff Fopp had even started stocking vinyl again. I reckon this is probably a necessary feature to attract the serious music shopper - its superior sound quality aside, flicking through racks of CDs (click click click click) just isn't the same.