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We visited HMV store in Canterbury before it closed ahead of move to smaller shop


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One of Kent's few remaining HMV stores shut its doors yesterday after more than 20 years at the same site.

Before it closed, ahead of a move to smaller premises, reporter Gerry Warren popped into the Canterbury shop to see how the business still survives in an age of streaming services and downloads….

HMV in Marlowe Arcade closed yesterday ahead of a move to smaller premises next month
HMV in Marlowe Arcade closed yesterday ahead of a move to smaller premises next month

Like many, I suspect, I haven’t ventured into a branch of HMV for years.

If I want to listen to the latest music, I use Spotify; if I want to watch a new blockbuster film, I turn on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

So in this new era of downloads and streaming services, how do shops selling racks of CDs and DVDs survive?

When it opened in 1999, Canterbury’s HMV was one of the city’s busiest stores, attracting hordes of film and music fans as it brought pop culture to the high street.

For many, each visit to the shop was an experience; an event to be savoured.

Teenagers would pile in after school, spending an age listening to music on headphones dotted around the two-storey store, and often leaving without parting with any cash.

The shop floor was a little ramshackle the day before the store closed
The shop floor was a little ramshackle the day before the store closed

But they would be back when their pocket money racked up, keeping the tills ringing for a retailer at the top of its game.

Those same tills would be full to bursting at Christmas, as the store became a one-stop shop for many ticking sought-after presents off their lists - CDs, DVDs, iPods, posters.

But where’s the market for that now?

CDs and DVDs are almost redundant in this new, digital world. Meanwhile, most of the latest gadgets can be picked up online at lower prices, and delivered to your door.

So it’s not surprising the Canterbury store was relatively quiet when I visited the day before it closed.

Among the few customers was 79-year-old Jim Williams, who appears to be on a mission to keep HMV in business.

"I still like CDs and, together with my wife, we've got about 1,300," he said, clutching an Aled Jones album, but insisting he’s a fan of all genres, including heavy metal.

"I just download them onto my computer and the quality is very good."

Perhaps he’s not heard of Spotify.

Loyal customer Jim Williams browses the CD selection - he has a collection of about 1,300
Loyal customer Jim Williams browses the CD selection - he has a collection of about 1,300

Jim says he has been visiting the Canterbury store since it opened, and is relieved to hear HMV will be retaining a presence in the city when it shuts, at a unit in Whitefriars.

But he’s likely to find a much different - and I’d hope better - experience in the new, smaller store.

Entering the current premises I was met with a rather ramshackle shop floor, although I cut the staff some slack as they were clearly in the process of preparing for the move.

Browsing among the myriad racks and shelves, it's hard to work out what is exactly where. The trouble is, there are not many ways of displaying CDs and DVDs. But then again, flicking through titles and coming across something unexpected also has an appeal.

Also on offer is a huge variety of merchandise, including TV box sets and music and film memorabilia, like Harry Potter scarves, Marvel figures, T-shirts, mugs - you can snap up a Batman drinking flask for £19.99 - posters, calendars and books.

There are also record decks and headphones, and you can even buy a Bat Cave doormat to amuse visitors to your home, or a pair of 'Rocky' boxing gloves for sparring matches with the nightmare neighbours.

Many of the superstars of pop and rock are represented, although I'm not sure I'd part with £24.99 for a Sergeant Pepper or Pink Floyd T-shirt.

And you'd need to be a serious Michael Buble fan to fork out £179 for his special box set.

Vinyl records are a growing market at HMV
Vinyl records are a growing market at HMV

Looking around, I can’t help but wonder how much of it I could buy cheaper online.

On one rack, sharing pride of place with Adele’s new album, I saw a DVD of the latest Bond movie, No Time to Die, for £9.99.

It seems a bargain, especially with masks currently mandatory for cinema trips, but a quick Google shows it available for £7.99 at Globalstore.

There's no doubt that for film buffs and music fans, there is some merchandise that would well serve as birthday treats or stocking fillers.

But the store feels dated and short of any Hollywood glitz, which hopefully the new shop will offer if it’s to avoid adding its name to the long list of branches that have shut over the past decade.

During this period, the company has twice survived administration, most recently in 2018, when it was saved by a Canadian investor.

But the scaled-back business continues to battle to survive against the odds, with bosses apparently optimistic about its future.

Last year, plans were announced to open 10 new stores in the UK, despite the challenges facing the high street.

HMV is moving to a smaller unit in Whitefriars previously occupied by Monsoon and a festive pop-up shop
HMV is moving to a smaller unit in Whitefriars previously occupied by Monsoon and a festive pop-up shop

HMV hopes offering more of an in-store experience - such as putting on events - will draw customers back.

“Nothing can replace speaking to someone face-to-face who is as passionate about what you’re buying as you are, and our stores offer a real sense of community for music, film and TV fans,” the company said last year as it celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Meanwhile, vinyl sales have risen 11.5% year-on-year - but will that niche market be enough to keep the business going?

HMV has to reestablish itself as the go-to place to visit for music and film, and the culture that goes with it, by making its stores as inviting as possible.

But only time will tell if it hits the right note with shoppers and survives for many more years to come.

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