Ray O’Brien owns the Music Zone record shop, located at Douglas Village shopping centre, which was forced to close after a fire in the car park last August. Music Zone has now relocated temporarily to a premises in Deanrock Business Park in Togher. Here he meets Marjorie Brennan.
How long have you been in business?
Over 18 years, since May 2001.
You’ve now had to move due to the fire in the shopping centre:
It was terribly unfortunate. Most shopping centres would have no major incidents, and we’ve had two in seven years. We can only try and pick up the pieces. On August 31, when we closed the shop half-an-hour before the fire, business was quite good, we were in a solid position. That has all been thrown up in the air now. But we’re here now in the new shop, and we’ll make the most of it.
Tell me about the new premises
After the fire, I wanted to try keep a level of service going. We are a niche business now to a degree and we have good customers that I didn’t want to lose. I kept communicating with them, trying to sell little bits, meet some customers, do stuff on the website. We tipped along, then I managed to get a deal on this place. We are at Deanrock Business Park, near St Finbarr’s hurling club, we’re next to Rock Bingo. Our shop is accessible from the South Link, and there’s parking here but there’s no real footfall. That is the challenge, we are more of a destination, and I just hope we can do enough to get back in [to Douglas], whenever that is.
How did you get into music retail?
I worked for Golden Discs. I started with them in 1993, so I’ve been selling records in some shape or form for all my adult life, really. I started in Golden Discs, at No 25, Patrick’s Street, up by Cudmore’s sweet shop — it’s gone now, it’s a shoe shop. Then I went out to manage the Wilton branch in 1998 and I was there until I opened my own place in Carrigaline.
You have seen a lot of changes in the music industry over the years:
Ah yeah, unbelievable. There’s a photograph on the wall in the shop in Douglas, it’s of me behind the counter in Golden Discs, from Christmas 1993, and you can see all the cassette tapes behind my back.
I have always loved music, since I was a small child. Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA was the first thing I bought out of my own money — it was the album, on cassette tape. I’d like to think that as an eight-year-old, I had decent enough taste.
You stock a lot of vinyl in the shop, has it increased in popularity?
It’s a lovely format, there’s a warmness to vinyl, I’ve always loved it. What we sell is freely available now online, so vinyl is our niche thing. We have about 3,500 vinyl titles in the shop. It has come back a bit. The big sign for me that it was gaining momentum was when Bowie released the Next Day album on his birthday, January 8, 2013. We sold out of the vinyl over the weekend. It was gone by the time Monday came around, I had to order some more. Year on year, it has grown, which is great. It came at the right time in the shop’s history, because we were only clinging on — things were very difficult in 2011, 2012.
As well as the current economic uncertainty of the music business, you’ve had to face almost biblical challenges in the last few years:
Yes. We had flooding in [June] 2012. I finished work that Thursday night, I had a wedding on the Friday, and I got a call from the manager in the shopping centre telling me there was three feet of water in the unit. The stock was destroyed. It was huge upheaval, I thought then how I would hate to live through that again, and here I am, going through something similar.
You obviously have loyal customers.
Ah, yeah, they’re savage. They’d be friends as much as customers. We always try go a step beyond for them. It’s more like a clubhouse than a shop here. That’s why independent, small shops like us…. I’d hate to say we’re a dying breed but the world has just gone more corporate. Maybe I’ll have to start thinking about upselling — asking the lads if they want a 7-inch when they buy something [laughs].
Can you recommend three albums?
I’m all about the Irish stuff — Fontaines DC’s album, Dogrel is great. It’s punk and edgy. I met the lead singer at [industry event] Music Cork, and we were close to getting them for an in-store before they blew up. They became really big really quickly.
There’s also a Dublin band, A Lazarus Soul, whose recent album, The D They Put Between The R&L, is fantastic, really clever and well-written.
Our own John Blek’s most recent record [Thistle and Thorn] is a gorgeous folk album. That’s three — I could name 25 but I won’t bore you. Murder Capital are another fine band, there’s two Cork lads involved.
Check out www.musiczone.ie