A few years ago, in happier, more optimistic times (one might say the years of naivety), I had the bright idea of having myself photographed outside every single branch of HMV in the UK. It’d have been a quixotic, epic adventure from Llanelli to Aberdeen, from the depths of Beckton to the glistening heights of Leamington Spa. Almost 300 photos of my cheesy mush outside an endless procession of shop windows.
Well, I’d best get started – cos otherwise there won’t be many left.
In the second half of last year the company closed down several dozen stores, including one in my region: Leeds Birstall. Chosen by default from amongst Meadowhall’s management team (from a pool of can’t presently drive/won’t drive/”I’m not doing that”/oh, looks like me then), I had to go up there, armed with sheafs of bestseller reports, and pull stock to be sent back to M’hell. The only pleasant part to the day was the fact that I got to chat with the store’s then-manager, who I hadn’t seen for a good six or more years. By the time I got there the store had closed its doors for the last time; there was no longer anything worth selling. Much of what I took back to Meadowhell that day was desperately needed shelving, itunes cards, and other consumables. I felt like a scavenger.
Today, I went to HMV Burnley. The store there was told last Thursday that they will close on the 14th of January. It is technically still open until Saturday but, again, I can’t see the doors staying open that long. The shelves were already depleted; much of the top-end chart and campaign stock had already been dispatched elsewhere. In the stockroom, two members of staff unhurriedly boxed up further piles for Bury, Bradford and – when I started bringing stuff upstairs too – for Barnsley. The store’s manager was welcoming, but glad he only had three stores (so far) to deal with – he had expected more from across the Yorkshire region. A 12-year veteran, it was immediately clear that he was justifiably upset and angry, and I had no wish to antagonise him.
Yet – and because you don’t get to that level of management without skill, experience and professionalism – he welcomed me, showed me around the store, and chatted to customers as though nothing was wrong. He told me he wasn’t holding out much hope for a move within the company; there were no vacancies. The security guard said much the same thing, adding that they had been told last year that there was a possibility of the store closing. On that occasion the company had turned around and said “We’ve changed our mind; you’re not in danger at all.” This made last week’s announcement even harder to bear.
Because the store was still open, I found myself serving customers too. One elderly gentleman asked for the new “Endeavour” DVD. I handed it to him and he frowned. “It’s cheaper online,” he said. I felt like explaining to him that this was why the store was closing, but I didn’t want to start an argument. There was enough bad feeling in the air. He’ll come back next week though, and wonder where the shop has gone.
The journey back to the right side of the Pennines was long and depressing. Bleak hillsides, with bleak terraces hanging from their sides. On one stretch of road, between Todmorden and Halifax, I counted over fifteen boarded-up pubs. The derelict shops and warehouses were innumerable.
I can’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering when staff will come to HMV Barnsley from Chesterfield, perhaps, or White Rose, or Lincoln, or Wakefield, clutching bestseller lists and chart prints, eyeing up the box sets and 2 for £10 sections.
“Oh, but HMV deserves to go under,” say the pillocks who post on things like Peston’s blog on the BBC website (and I’m sure he’s in the pockets of the supermarkets anyway). These pillocks are bankers and financial traders. They’re not in any danger of losing their jobs. Go talk to the manager of HMV Burnley and tell him that he deserves to lose his job. See where that gets you. Or the manager of HMV Beckton. Or Llanelli. Or Cheshire Oaks. Or Bangor (NI). Or Manchester Arndale.
And it isn’t just HMV; it’s the rest of the High Street too. Do you really want your town to look like this?
Because, seriously, it ain’t that far away.
If you tolerate this , then your workplace will be next.
(Edited 10/01/12 to add other affected branches)