CHEAP THRILLS used record and books

interview by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 2 No. 3, 2002

FP: Did you shop at Cheap Thrills much before you worked here?
Guy: Oh yeah, I shopped there (the original location) before they even had records. It was an empty room, just sitting there waiting for records. I was one of the first ones to walk in. Before that, there were no used record stores in Montreal, this was the first one, as far as I know. Within three years there was also L’Echange, possibly Mars, then the Va et Viens, which is closed now.
FP: What about the old Record Gold Mine that used to be nearby?
Guy: It wasn’t open then. He had a previous used record store on Mackay, but that was still after Cheap Thrills. He had been in the business since the 60s selling new records. He’s not around anymore.
FP: The last I saw him, in the late 90s, he was reduced to a small room in the Belgo building. So when you first walked into Cheap Thrills, I guess the stuff they were getting was what we’d now call “classic rock.”
Guy: The first record I bought there in ‘71 was a Dylan record, probably Highway 61.
FP: Do you remember there being any 78’s or cylinders at the time?
Guy: No cylinders, although they probably had the misfortune of buying some 78’s at the beginning, and trying to sell them. Very hard sell, 78’s.
FP: Do you remember any long-standing new record stores that are no longer around? I guess Sam’s was around a long time.
Guy: No, not that long. I think they opened after we did. I think of all the record stores around right now, the only one that’s older than us is Archambault. Of course they go way back (to the 1890’s.) Aside from department stores, the guy from the Record Gold Mine had a store on Park in the 60s. Phantasmagoria was a great store for a long time. In the 60s you could go to the Eaton’s record department, which was considered all right at the time. There were few independent record stores to speak of besides Phantasmagoria. There were some which weren’t around for long but were just as loved, such as Galaxy on Guy St. There was one on St. Denis, l’Alternative. Phantasmagoria changed personality when the original owner sold out.
FP: It closed in the early 90s. I went there a lot in the days of Nirvana and Soundgarden, and they still had some old bootleg records and novelties from way back. I don’t know what the Phantasmagoria on Sherbrooke in NDG is doing using the name. I don’t know how they stay in business just selling top-forty CD crap.
Guy: They also sell stereo equipment. That’s the only reason they stay in business. I don’t think there has been a store that sells new records as its only source of income, and has no affiliation with any other store or chain, that has survived. I don’t know if it’s possible anymore. There was Dutchy’s, but even then, they relied a lot on clothing and paraphernalia. It’s very very hard right now. You have the price structure of the major distributors against you, they won’t deal with you directly unless you buy a certain volume. Chains get volume discounts that you could never match.
FP: What about the special orders you guys take, does that help a lot?
Guy: It’s not a moneymaker. People ask what the charge is on a special order, well there is no charge. And our regular markup is not high. It’s a service that we hope will keep bringing people back to the store. It’s a lot of work. If it weren’t for the international orders we get on our internet site, I don’t know if we could stay in business. We do pretty well, a lot of the time customers go to different web sites, and on our site the same title comes up cheaper. There’s a whole second store upstairs that no one knows about, it opens at eight in the morning. So we’re not just bleary-eyed from working here.
FP: I guess it all fits together, the books, the used records, the new records, the internet orders, it takes that kind of diversification to stay in business.
Guy: It does. It also makes it a more interesting place to work. We’re not just doing one thing.
Brian: It’s also a lot harder to do.
Guy: Yeah. A lot more challenging. We’re not just music geeks; we’re all-around geeks.
FP: At which point and for what reasons do you think it became unfeasible to sell only used records?
Guy: Given the number of used stores in town, it’s not actually unfeasible to sell only used music, but it is unfeasible for an independent store to sell only new music if that’s your only source of income (except for dance music). We added new music out of an interest in getting new imports at reasonable prices. New CD’s require an outlay of much more money for inventory and are sold at a lower profit margin. I don’t think there has been a successful non-specialist independent store selling only new CD’s or records in the last 15 years or more. Again, by non-specialist I mean dance music is the only genre that could support a new store. There’ve been many changes in the music industry, music audience and retail in general that make this difficult.
FP: It’s been over 15 years already, but I still remember seeing Deja Voodoo play at the grand opening of the second Cheap Thrills. Jerry Jerry played a show around the same time. And if I remember correctly the back room with the new vinyl wasn’t there.
Guy: No, that was office and storage. That’s now upstairs. Deja Voodoo was the perfect band for this store, since they were only two people. I’d love to do more in-store shows, but physically there’s just no space. There are a lot of people willing to play here, though. One day we had Jean Derome in here, just sitting on a chair, playing along with the sound of the cash register.
FP: Back to records: Denis, the owner of Le Pick-Up, recently told me he thought that CD-burning has put a dent on used-CD sales, making it more interesting for him to stock more vinyl again. Do you think that’s the case?
Guy: Well, strictly on one level, I don’t see how getting more vinyl would answer that problem. They could still be burning CD’s of stuff they got off vinyl, so I don’t know how that argument would hold up. Vinyl I think just has a new audience developing, which is unrelated to CD burning. There’s a younger audience finding turntables, they find it neat, sometimes it’s cheaper. On American releases the vinyl is usually cheaper than the CD. I think it’s not saving a couple bucks that does it, I think it’s the cachet, the whole thing of having the on vinyl. It’s not an audiophile thing either, I don’t think having White Stripes on vinyl is gonna sound a whole lot different than on CD.
FP: I think the packaging is a big factor, for some things it’s nice to get the big record cover and stuff. And certainly in the 90s the limited pressing 45’s have been very popular, especially for punk and indie rock stuff.
Guy: Well there isn’t a uniform music buyer. You’ve got the guy who’s got to have the first pressing…
Brian: You’ve got the guy who has to get the CD AND the vinyl.
Guy: Who knows, maybe he wants to put one up on the shelf, make a display. Buy one in each color scheme, this kind of thing. Overall I think CD burning affects more, say, Creed’s sales, than, say, Alan Silva or John Zorn sales.
FP: Do you think there will ever be rare CD’s just like there is rare vinyl?
Guy: There are, there are already. They’ll never be as loveable though…
Brian: If you can find an Ice-T CD with “Cop Killer” on it, you’ll have to pay 25 bucks for it. The first Travelling Wilburys CD, that’s 25 bucks too. All the Mobile Fidelity CD’s are collector’s items. They no longer make them. Well they used to retail for $40 Canadian in the first place, now if you can find them they go for $40 U.S. (about $60 Canadian.)
FP: I still have one of what’s supposed to be the first mini-CD’s from the mid 80’s, a Frank Zappa single, that’s hopefully worth something. These mini-CD’s are just now starting to make a comeback.
Guy: They’re great, what is it, 20, 23 minutes? You could have “The Best of the Troggs” on a mini-CD. A lot of people can have a “best-of” on mini-CD.

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