When I first visited Vancouver in the summer of 2011, I spent a solid two hours in the HMV on Robson Street. Maybe more. I used to love these places.
When I moved to Vancouver in the fall of 2012, I searched and searched for the three-floor wonderland that had so entranced me the previous year – to no avail. The space that once held that HMV has been through a spectacular transformation since I set foot in it. As I’m writing this, it houses the world’s second largest Victoria’s Secret. CDs are on their way out, but lingerie is forever.
The British music store chain’s future has been called into question this year. So, when I was walking down Robson the other day, I was shocked to see a brand new HMV, right across the street from where the old one used to be. I stepped inside.
By the time I left, I had realized something that the rest of the world has known for years: it really is over for these kinds of stores.
We’re going to have to take a few steps back if I’m going to properly communicate my disappointment.
Some people think of HMV as the music store equivalent to Tony Roma’s: generic, middle-of-the-road, and the same in every city in the world. I resent this view. I’ve always felt that you can learn something about a city by walking around its largest HMV. Montreal’s, for instance, has the most massive classical section I’ve seen in a chain store – evoking the sense of high culture that pervades that city. The wide variety of obscure prog and psychedelic gems you could find at the dearly departed Vancouver location suggests that if you search the Lower Mainland hard enough, you may come across an old hippie or two.
My memories of childhood in Fort McMurray are peppered with weekend jaunts down to Edmonton with my family, where I would gladly spend hours in the two-storey HMV at the West Edmonton Mall. I have a sentimental attachment to those three big, pink letters that no quirky indie shop could match.
So, my recent trip to Robson Street’s new HMV kind of ruined my day. The store is about the size of a two-chair barber shop. In terms of selection, if you take away the small selection of Criterion DVDs and Blu-Rays, you’re basically looking at a Wal-Mart entertainment section. Amusingly, an employee asked if she could help me find anything three times in the course of my fifteen-minute visit. “I know you mean well,” I thought, “but I could see your whole selection the second I walked in the door.”
A world without HMVs would be rough for those of us who maintain an irrational attachment to music as a physical commodity. HMV has always offered an opportunity to step off the street into a place that’s familiar, but maybe a little bit new as well. It’s a place where you’re likely to find the albums you’ve been reading about but haven’t gotten around to hearing. It is my personal favourite waste of time.
But, His Master’s Voice is fading fast.
I must admit that after a long struggle, my logical brain finally pounded my sentimental side into submission. Nowadays, I’ve more or less gone digital. But, compared to the pleasure of aimlessly wandering the endless aisles of a well-stocked, multi-storey, bricks and mortar music store, shopping on iTunes is just not much fun.