It’s official. HMV announced it will be closing its doors across Canada by the end of April – at the latest. One of Canada’s leading music retailers since the late 80s and the last standing national chain dedicated to selling music and physical media is in its final days.
Following the closure of Sam the Record Man and Music World, both ten years ago, HMV’s own downtown Halifax location nearly five years ago, and the trickling effect of other music retailers and the dwindling of music sections of box stores in the years since, it’s a sad day for music buyers.
But completely not unexpected. Music sales started to drop in the early 2000s following the rise of illegal music downloads, and where the industry was late to respond with legal downloads, it was an uphill battle to make even digital retailers like iTunes a thing. Now with even digital downloads on the way out in favour of even more ease and convenience, music streaming, it’s almost a surprise HMV managed to last this long. A national chain can’t survive on such a niche market – and it didn’t. As the music section of HMV got smaller, DVDs and blu-ray got larger with TV series box sets accounting for more floor space, but even those had limited shelf lives so HMV began to carry other knickknacks. Games, plush toys, lunch boxes, clothes, candy. It gradually became a Newbury Comics of the north.
I’m still an old fogey who buys music in CD and vinyl formats, in addition to digital. I’ve cut back on my buying habits, mostly due to lack of necessity and, most recently, space, but I’ll always have a desire to own music I love on either CD, vinyl or both.
HMV is responsible for maybe 3/4 of my CD collection that has grown from a single CD in 1994 to nearly 1,000 today (I gave away over 100 last year and another purge may be pending – for space). Most, if not all of my CDs have very specific memories attached to them. In many cases, I can remember where they were attained, why I got it, and other not-so-interesting facts related to each CD.
I remember going to HMV after my first two classes every Tuesday to check out the new releases section. More often than not I left empty-handed but many times, I didn’t. There was a certain excitement with going on the day a new album I’d been waiting for was new to the shelves. November 19, 2002, myself and a friend of mine planned ahead to get to HMV before our first class shortly after they opened to each pick up a copy of Chantal Kreviazuk‘s new album What If It All Means Something – special limited edition version.
In 2003, I want to say March, I noticed a CD by a singer I knew little of beyond one song, Hockey Skates. Recognizing a need to expand my music, and seeing it was $8.99 (much lower than most new releases at the time!), I bought it. Failer by Kathleen Edwards, now one of my all-time favourites.
There was a time when I would occasionally buy a CD knowing nothing about the artist other than what was visible on the front and back of their CD. May 19, 2004, while picking up Avril Lavigne‘s Under My Skin on release day because I loved her last album so much (I don’t care what you think! Let Go is still ace!), I happened to spot a CD that caught my eye. Melissa McClelland‘s Stranded In Suburbia. Based on the cover, and it being an album under Nettwerk, I was reminded of a Sarah Slean meets Sarah Harmer style, and hopeful this album would be just as great. Avril took up much of my ear space for a while, but that summer belonged to Melissa, who was in fact quirky like Slean and folky like Harmer. How’s that for a good eye?
HMV used to do midnight openings for major releases. November 23, 2004, they opened at midnight to mark the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on DVD and U2‘s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, along with album releases from Gwen Stefani, Evanescence, Snoop Dogg and Ludacris. I made sure to be there, not necessarily to buy anything, but to experience a midnight event. Quite a few people came out to the opening and by 1am, the store was closed again. I also happened to be working at HMV at the time, as a seasonal employee for the Christmas shopping season. Even though I was only there for two months, I remember the enjoyment of organizing CDs, checking to make sure top sellers were well stocked, and double-checking to make sure my favourites were available. People asked for my opinion on music. Mom’s asked for recommendations for their children. It was fantastic!
In 2008, after graduating from college and working full-time for the first time in ages, I had disposable income. I bought my first game system at HMV when I splurged and got a Wii.
On May 23, 2011, me and partner at the time went to the mall HMV and each picked up Lady Gaga‘s Born This Way – not once, but twice. The regular edition and the deluxe 2-CD edition. We managed to avoid listening to leaks of the album before this day so when we left the mall, we put the regular edition into the CD player and drove, finally listening to it for the first time. On the drive back, we put the deluxe edition in and with three additional tracks, listening to that for the first time. It was a true experience that could only come from a music store.
Music is music no matter where it comes from but for many, music is a full experience that goes beyond what you hear. I have many fond memories attached to HMV, and music stores in general, and as each one closes, another era comes to a close. The unfortunate thing is, the end of this era doesn’t mark the beginning of another. There’s a lot of messages to be taken from this that I can ponder, depending on the level of cheese and cliche I’m willing to get into. Luckily today, I won’t. I’ll simply make my way to the music store and peruse the isles again – while I can.