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Rounder Records hopes for investor to stop closure
For 46 years, residents in Brighton and Hove have been seeking the sage advice of the music experts from Rounder Records for what record to next drop the needle on or which CD to slip into the drive.
Sadly, that fountain of knowledge sitting in Brighton Square, Brighton is set to be turned off after the store’s owners announced yesterday that it would be closing its doors for the final time at the end of this month.
The tributes that flooded The Argus website and Facebook site and Twitter, as well as from local music stars like Carl Cox, music industry figures and customers, prove the store was much more than just a retailer.
And while the news will prove particularly hard for the shop’s owner of almost 13 years, Phil Barton, his three full-time staff of equal service and handful of part-time staff, its loss has also raised questions about how well other independent stores are faring in difficult times.
Battered by the wettest of British summers, an economic downturn that shows no sign of abating and an unpopular increase in parking charges, many independent traders are feeling the pinch.
And if they are struggling, then the city struggles.
A recent survey by Brighton and Hove City Council estimated that independent stores account for more than £200 million in the local economy every year.
The council report highlighted the economic downturn and ever-growing online sector as threats to the city’s retail sector but said Brighton and Hove was holding up well compared with the rest of the country when it came to empty shops.
This will come as little comfort to Rounder owner Phil Barton who yesterday called time on the store, which will close on July 29.
He told The Argus yesterday that the store had been losing money for the best part of five years and said he could no longer continue in a battle against illegal downloaders, big online retailers and the recession.
With the store’s lease coming up for renewal, Mr Barton hoped for a final reprieve from an investor to help fund a move to a new premises where they would increase their focus on vinyl.
Mr Barton said he still held out hope that an investor might come forward to keep the store going before the end of the month.
He added: “We looked at various other options but haven’t been able to secure the finance.
“The banks aren’t going to support a business that hasn’t made making a profit for five years so we have been looking for individuals who were interested in what we do.
“It’s not a good day, it’s been a very difficult and emotional day.
“There are cities bigger than Brighton that don’t have any independent record stores at all so the people in Brighton are very lucky.
“I want to look after my staff who have been so loyal and I want to exit this with some sort of grace if I can.
“We want to stress that we’re not closed yet.
“We’re here until the end of the month and we need to sell off the stock so all our people can get paid.
“So people should drop by to say goodbye, and buy a record.”
Independent TradersThe difficulties of Rounder records to cope with the economic downturn among other evils are the same problems facing all independent retailers.
Some business leaders, though, are optimistic that traders are well placed to weather the storm.
David Sewell, pictured, chair of the North Laine Traders Association, said independent stores were struggling in the face of poor weather, the economic downturn and increased parking charges but were better placed to brave out the storm than high street retailers.
He said: "Traders are just trying to keep trading and hope for better times.
"The bigger chains that over-borrowed and opened willy nilly without thinking are closing but independent businesses will just take less profit at the end of the year.
"Most traders will survive but it won't be a good year.
"I think most of the North Laine traders are pretty good at what they do, most have a unique selling point and know their businesses."
However, some figures are less optimistic that independent traders will simply be able to keep themselves ticking over during their current difficulties.
Alan Moon, owner of wool shop Cocoon in George Street, Hove, is one of several retailers who was recently consulted by the council in preparing a report on the city's retail sector.
He said that George Street currently had the highest number of empty shops he |had seen in his three years there.
He added: "It's a nightmare.
"The biggest thing against smaller independent traders is business rates.
"For shops in George Street, it will be the business rates that finish them off.
"We have a lot of charity shops in George Street and they don't pay business rates which doesn't help the independents.
"Traders in the North Laine are probably fine, they are always well-supported, but many other independents are just hanging on."
Martin Lawrence, owner of art supplies store TN Lawrence & Son in Portland Road, Hove, said it was a matter of survival for shop owners.
He added: "The problem with national stores closing down is probably to do with their borrowing capacity whereas independents are probably more prepared to take smaller profits.
"A lot of business is moving online and if that takes 10 to 20% of sales, that makes it more difficult for shops to remain in the city.
"If retailers can stick it out now, I'm sure it will get better in the future.
"It's probably better to start a business in a recession. If you can survive, you will be well placed when things pick up again."
Ed Allison-Wright, director of Centurion Group which owns Brighton Square, was among the first to express their condolences at the loss of the legendary store.
He said: “We are sad to see Rounder Records leave the heart of the Lanes; they have been trading in Brighton Square for as long as it has existed.
“We wish everyone at Rounder the best of luck in their future endeavours and thank them for their long-standing relationship with Brighton Square.”
Fellow record shops also added their commiserations to see the loss of Rounder from the city’s shopping centre.
Derry Watkins, owner of Resident in Kensington Gardens, echoed Mr Barton’s comments that online shopping had a large negative impact on their business.
He said customers turned online out of habit, even though they didn’t represent as good value now that loopholes that allowed them to operate outside the UK and avoid VAT had been closed.
He added: “I think the Brighton music scene is more vibrant than anywhere else in the country relative to its size, and you won’t find anywhere with more record shops for its size.
“It is still a great place to buy music but just that bit poorer with the closure of Rounder.”
George Ginn, 82, has been running The Record Album in Terminus Road since 1962.
The shop itself is the longest running independent record store in the city and has had top music stars including Radiohead, Damon Albarn and Brian Eno cross its threshold.
He said: “It’s getting very, very tough indeed.
“No retail shop is immune from this.
“Records are a luxury and when you are up against it financially something has to give.
“But although the CD market is shrinking fast, they are pressing more vinyl now than in the last 20 years, and very good quality too.
“My lease expires here in 2014 and I am hoping that if I’m still feeling frisky at 84 then I will try to renew the lease.”