With the world telling you that sales of music on disc are in decline, opening a new record and CD store might seem a pretty daft idea. But that's just what London-based Rough Trade is doing, with a new 5000sq ft (420sq m) shop in a converted brewery in Brick Lane, London E1.
And the music playback in the store is very definitely audiophile-quality: Naim amplifiers and CD players are used in conjunction with the turntables and huge wall-mounted PMC speakers.
The Rough Trade East store, ten times the size of the company's next largest shop to date, has been designed to attract browsers and music enthusiasts. As well as the music on sale, there's a coffee bar at the entrance, a 'snug' area with free wi-fi access, record and CD racks designed to be wheeled away for special events and a performance space with a top-notch PA system for groups to play live.
Like cult US record stores such as Amoeba and Aquarius in San Francisco, it's designed as a place people will want to go and spend some time, the company acknowledging that it can't compete on price with the supermarkets, the music retail giants and the online retailers.
What it can bring to the party is knowledgeable staff – discs on display carry labels with notes about the music and artist –, a range of music you won't find at outlets focused only around the big-sellers, and a good proportion of vinyl to CDs: LPs and singles account for over a quarter of the company's sales.
It's a formula that's served Rough Trade well for the past 30 years, and in the ambitious Brick Lane store, it looks like it might just work well. The company sees the high street record stores in decline, but reckons outlets like this, slightly off the beaten track but offering more to the customer, are the way forward.
Turntables for private listening, and big PMC speakers above the counter
Naim system under counter provides the power - and CD playback
At last night's opening party, with the 'snug' area still under construction and no lighting in the performance area - even though the store is officially open - and only some of the record and CD bins racks filled, it was clear how the concept works.
The Naim system under the counter was pumping music through the big PMC speakers above the 30ft long sales desk area, turntables and headphones stood ready for private listening, and Mercury Prize nominees New Young Pony Club, seen below in action, were setting up for their live appearance.
Future appearances at the store include Richard Hawley on August 4, The Pigeon Detectives on the 14th, Foals on the 21st and Black Lips on September 5th. More details on the Rough Trade website.
The new Rough Trade East is at
The Truman Brewery, Dray Walk, Brick Lane, London E1.