We popped over to Belgium to check out classical music's newest concert hall.
In our brand-new series, we get to know the nation's very best independent classical music shops. First, we travel to Pomp and Circumstance in Harrogate to chat about untidy jazz customers and competing with online retailers.
Name: Peter Robinson
Your shop: Pomp and Circumstance
How long have you been open?
The shop was founded in 1994 and I bought the business in May 2010.
What's the best recording in your shop at the moment?
Not sure it’s the best but it’s certainly my favourite – Bortkiewicz’s 2nd Piano Concerto. It was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian-born concert pianist who lost his right arm in WWI. The Ravel for the left hand is well known, and there are several others we have to thank him for. The Bortkiewicz 2nd deserves to be played more often - it’s like having another Rachmaninov concerto – very romantic, and unlike many other ‘warhorse’ (not Warsaw!) concertos, it’s also beautifully orchestrated. I’ve sold more copies of this CD than any other, because I play it a lot in the shop and people fall in love with it when they hear it.
What was the most memorable day of trading in your shop?
This year’s Record Store Day, on April 20th – it was packed! Normally, our shop isn’t often crowded, it just ticks over steadily. I do remember unusual encounters, like when a customer called Schumann turned out to be married to a descendant of 'the' Schumann. And there was the day when someone asked for the 1812 Overture with Pachelbel’s ‘cannons’!
Do you get angry if a customer files a Strauss record in the wrong place?
Only slightly peeved. The main problem is when somebody comes in and asks for something that isn’t where it should be. I assume it’s been sold or stolen, and then find it a couple of days later when I’m tidying up. So the ‘untidy’ browsers sometimes cost me a sale. That said, classical music browsers usually leave things looking pretty much the same as before they came in – sometimes they do a bit of tidying themselves! But jazz customers… the racks look like there’s been an earthquake after a browsing session by one of them.
Have you ever had to wrestle a shoplifter to the floor?
Unfortunately not, as I’ve never caught one, not even the person who took an unfeasibly large Mendelssohn box set from a high shelf (it was conspicuous by its absence after I had finished serving at the till). My restraining implement of choice whilst waiting for the police would be a pitchfork but seeing that propped up behind the counter might be a bit off-putting to those who don’t know me for the friendly soul that I am.
Are there any records in your shop that you just can't get rid of?
If I could predict which ones were going to hang around for ages, I wouldn’t have bought them in the first place! Some of the best records in the shop have very poor cover artwork which dooms them to a downward spiral beginning with their being labelled as an ‘exciting new release’ followed by ‘special offer’, and then the final indignity of ‘reduced to clear’.
What is the function of a good record shop nowadays?
To provide customers with the best possible service, treat them as individuals and respect their musical tastes. This is because we like meeting people and sharing their enthusiasm for the music they love.
How is the future looking for your business, given the current climate?
I can’t pretend it’s easy, because of the recession and competition from online traders. We offer the best personal service we can, but if the customer’s over-riding concern is the price, whatever else we do will not matter to them. There are people who only come in to see what the new releases are, copy down the catalogue numbers or take photos of the covers with their phone, and then buy from the internet (I know this because they certainly don’t buy from us). One ‘customer’ actually came in a week later to say that he had done so, and thanked me. But because we care passionately about what we do, we have lots of regular customers who value the personal attention they get. We are music lovers ourselves and know how exciting it is to acquire a long-lost treasure or discover something intriguing and unexpected by chance.
Although visitors to the shop are amazed by the amount and variety of music available, we can’t stock everything. That’s when we offer our ‘music detective’ service, where we search for a recording and quote a price without any obligation to purchase. There’s a table where you can sit to consult record guides, or browse through a selection of music books. We have promotional copies of the new releases that you can listen to. You can have advice on which recording to choose, but we only offer an opinion when asked. I think we score over the internet by all of this - just try downloading a complimentary cup of coffee!
You can visit the Pomp and Circumstance website here.