This article begins with me as a teenager meeting a man in a video van. No he didn’t kidnap me and force me to watch Short Circuit till I rented it for the weekend. He didn’t have to… I was willing accomplice in his crimes against celluloid. There’s no doubt that thirteen year old me had a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. Every week my new friend would drive to my house in his white video van packed full of new goodies. Blood and snot was his catchphrase and rating system. The more blood and snot the better and I quickly joined his cult. I worshipped at the church of Van Damme, watched on bemused at Jackie Chan (it was only years later did I find out that his films were badly dubbed) and had countless nightmares after watching the latest Zombie splatter-fest.
The films I watched back then were terrible but often had a punk rock, don’t give a toss attitude. Many were unloved, unwanted and neglected, which helped me love them even more. One sad day the video man never came back and disappeared forever. However recently, I visited my parents and as I drove away caught a small van out of the corner of my eye. For a second I thought my childhood hero had returned. To save me from Fast and the Furious 15 or 50 Shades of Sh*t. On second inspection it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t him. An impostor. Still it made me smile as I remember those old days.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. The fuzzy haze of our glory days that make you yearn to return to a time when life was simpler. Imagine if the technology existed for our conscious to travel back in time into our younger selves. Given the chance most people would take the trip back to live a day in their previous life. A day-trip back into their younger, fitter, sillier and drunker bodies. To visit the places long gone and see the fresh faces of those past acquiesces who’ve now moved on. To sit with your old pub quiz team, to dance to the songs that are only now played at retro nights and to visit the music shops that were casualties of the great digital war.
Is there a place in 2017 for businesses like my old video van friend?
I recently read a great article over on Kotaku on how Japan is the last haven for Arcades. Live streaming and digital TV may have been the end of VHS and likewise, Arcades meet their match from their snotty younger, snotty siblings the PlayStation and Xbox. In the UK, mighty high street giants like Blockbuster failed to adapt to changes in customer behaviour meaning they slowly disappeared. In my home town of Chesterfield, one of my favourite places, much to my Mother’s shame was the double whammy of a video store with an arcade tucked away in the back. It was a magical place which could only exist back then. A relic of trashy video covers that made promises the film couldn’t keep and Ninja Turtle fighting games for 20p a turn. What a wonderful thing it would be be if some was brave enough to create a new arcade or video shop now, maybe with a cafe or as an interactive museum. Alas, it never could be, us apes have evolved from the joys of Double Dragon and Weekend At Bernie’s.
Nostalgia can of course be the fountain for a business as shown by the success of the retro mini NES games console that Nintendo can’t stop selling and the enduring popularity of brands like Bagpuss and plus Peanuts (Charlie Brown). After all, retro is cool, vinyl is outselling digital downloads and shabby chic is mainstream. Whilst I don’t see VHS or cassettes making a come back anytime soon, people are looking to connect more with traditional businesses and values. Look at the popularity of recent Gift Shop Hub spotlight star Ghostsigns and the number of screen printing fairs popping up all over our little island.
Still a shop and business cannot survive on history alone. It needs to look at ways to change to society and the new generation of social savvy buyers. To integrate the new and the old. To learn from those companies who failed to see the changing of the old guard with new digital gods. However, Gift Shop Hub always likes to leave you on a positive note. We’re big believers in the s**t sandwich don’t you know. There’s still indie shops going strong in Chesterfield like Tall Bird Records, Badger Clothing and Huckleberry Willow plus the thriving markets that run most days including my old hunting ground the Thursday Flea market.
I went into Chesterfield on a rare Saturday away from the computer (I needed to get my peepers checked. Which is probably my computer’s fault). I first visited the aforementioned Tall Bird Records and picked up the latest Ryan Adams album whilst listening to background chat. That’s the amazing thing about independent shops, the real and knowledgable interactions between the staff and consumers. Let’s face it, most people who collect things like vinyl, the real collectors, not the ones who buy it at Sainsbury’s (Sorry music snob alert), are deeply passionate about it. They want to visit a shop and not just buy the record but have an half an hour conversation about the first time they saw the band live, the price of the early 1st pressing or the time they got a hello from Joe Strummer outside a local pub. Tall Bird Records really is an amazing place, just as much a community as a shop.
Customers queuing for Record Store Day at Tall Bird Records
After a brief wander I found a second record shop tucked away down a small side street. The delightfully named Vanishing Point Records in Falcon Yard had a great selection of used vinyl and specialised in soundtracks and electronica. It had only just opened but was full and again the geeky chat was it full flow. This time I picked up a classic Four Tops LP.
It was great to see that people are still taking a risk and following their dreams to open up new shops. On that note, I’m going to finish with a tribute to Chesterfield. Here’s to Sammy Spire, the Brampton Mile, Thursday Market, the Green Room and Hudson Records. Here’s to not only living in the past but to a better future. To the canal development, the new shops located in the CO-OP, the Avenue and the indie shops that remained, not forever unchanged but dancing to their own beat whilst not afraid to learn a new tune or two.