By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) -British music store HMV on Black Friday returned to its former flagship store on London’s Oxford Street after a four-year absence, offering vinyl, clothing and merchandise in a vote of confidence for physical stores in an increasingly online age.
The 363 Oxford Street address hosted the very first HMV store in 1921, opened by composer Edward Elgar, and was central to the development of British popular music and culture. Pop band Madness reopened the store on Friday.
The retailer, famous for its dog and gramophone trademark, left the site in 2019 when Canadian music entrepreneur Doug Putman struck a deal to save the bankrupt firm, shutting 27 prime locations and keeping 100 stores open.
At the centre of Britain’s most famous shopping street, it had recently lain empty or sold American candy.
Now, thanks to a more favourable rent and business rates package, HMV is coming home.
“When I first came to London in 2015 I walked through this store and kept thinking ‘whoever owns this, wow, this is pretty amazing’. Eight years later, I own it, and we’re opening this back up,” Putman told Reuters in an interview.
He is optimistic about the future of physical stores.
“You have to have a reason for people to come out to your store. For us, it’s a great selection, it’s browsing,” he said. “Ultimately, if you can’t make it a fun shopping experience, no one’s going to come to your stores.”
The store will sell 8,000 different vinyl albums, 12,000 CDs, music merchandise and a wide range of music technology.
It will also offer more than 4,000 products across franchises such as Pokemon, Star Wars, Marvel and DC, as well as over 750 T-shirt designs.
With a purpose-built performance floor in-store, the new shop will also host performances from major names and local artists, showing how hard retailers have to work to make physical stores a success as more trade shifts online.
Singer Rachel Chinouriri will perform at the store on Friday.
CHER TO BLUR
The site is steeped in history. Its shoppers have included John Lennon, Cher, Elton John and Michael Jackson, and it has hosted a raft of British bands in store and on the roof, including Echo & The Bunnymen and Blur. It also played a key role in the Beatles’ rise to fame.
HMV fell into administration in 2013 and again in 2018, but under Putman’s ownership it has grown to over 120 UK outlets and returned to profit in 2022. It opened a store in Dublin in June, one in Antwerp on Thursday and plans further European expansion.
“We can fill a void in the market in a lot of European countries,” said Putman.
Its resurgence has mirrored that of the vinyl market. HMV says its vinyl sales are significantly ahead of UK annual market growth of 18%, and account for half its physical music sales.
“Vinyl has pulled in a lot of a younger demographic,” said Putman, adding he expects growth to continue.
Councillor Geoff Barraclough of Westminster City Council, which oversees Oxford Street, said the HMV store represented what they wanted to offer in the area: “an experience beyond traditional retail”.
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Jan Harvey)