Spiral Archive, Northampton’s mecca for music lovers seeking a pre-loved bargain or a rare original release, will pull down the shutters on its current premises at the end of July.
For the last 12 years its home has been on St Michael’s Road, but owner Alex Novak has been hit with a whopping great rent increase. There is no alternative but to pack up the vinyl and look for new premises.
After a devastating year at the mercy of the pandemic, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the shop, which has been in town for more than two decades. It is a true independent in a sea of chain stores.
“Having dabbled with record fairs for quite a few years, I got my first proper shop in 1999 on Wellington Street. It was above a cafe, and I shared the same floor as a hairdresser…”
But Alex’s venture was itself a cut above the rest and he outgrew the space and moved on to The Emporium: “It was a furniture shop importing items from Thailand and I had an upstairs space there. When that closed I had the opportunity to go into the Fishmarket – an interesting place with concerts, exhibitions and fairs, but it only lasted a few years.”
Then, 12 years ago he took the property in St Michael’s Road which has since expanded; eating up space left when a bookshop and a magazine office vacated.
This latest property issue might press pause on Spiral Archive for the moment, but it’s just another hurdle to clear before Alex gets back to the business of selling sounds.
He opened his first store when vinyl sales were on the floor, so he’s used to a challenge: “When I first opened, vinyl was probably at its lowest point between the launch of CDs and digital as the main sellers,” he remembered, “Record sales have improved in the intervening years though – mostly due to collectors and fans.
“It is still a niche market, but with a loyal base. Luckily, the recessions never greatly affected the business, but the lockdown stopped direct selling and I had to rely on internet sales, which just doesn’t have the same dynamic.”
How has Alex managed to survive when so many similar businesses haven’t been able to pull through?
“I think it’s by basically trying to keep the overheads down to a reasonable level, even when things are tough…and I’ve always been involved in gigs, Djing and promoting, and those things tend to support each other,” he said.
And overseas traders know that in Alex they have a dealer worthy of a visit – back when travel was easy, he welcomed notables including Japan’s Kenji/Time Bomb Records, along with others from Holland and Poland.
“…I have dealers from around the UK too, who can fill in the gap until travel opens up again,” he says, taking the positive.
There is something unique about a record shop; walking in, giving a knowing nod to the seller who will probably be playing some obscurity on a well used stereo, or thumbing through new stock. Conversations are struck up and friendships made. That doesn’t come as standard at the local supermarket, does it?
Record shops create their own community.
“I look at the shop as a hub, a focal point for information on what’s going on, for gigs and releases, and as a place to interact with likeminded people – customers become friends that I meet socially,” Alex says, proving the point.
“Recent events have been a bit of a shock to the system, but it seems the way things are going at the moment, our town centres are in transition – I just hope there is still room for us independents.”
If you want to make it easier for Alex to vacate his premises, you have until July 31 to pay a visit and splash the cash on the black stuff – and with 50% off all stock, you could get a tasty rarity by The Fab Four or the Stones at a very fetching price!
“I’m trying to reduce the stock levels by around 60% to give me a better chance of finding something new…just dealing with the logistics is a bit mind-boggling,” Alex admitted.
But vinyl lovers needn’t get the needle – this is just another temporary setback for the tenacious record store owner.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he promises, “Watch this space…”
Stay in touch: www.facebook.com/SpiralArchiveRecords