business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Writer David Sax had a lovely piece in the New York Times over the weekend about the closure of June Records in Toronto, and the pain of losing a “beloved brick and mortar business.”

In the piece, Sax makes some salient points about what made June Records so important to him and to other customers.

“June Records wasn’t the oldest record store in Toronto,” he writes, “the largest or its best known. It was a small place, and opened only in 2012. But it meant the world to me for several reasons: it was a block from my house; the selection was eclectic and sweeping; the prices were fair; and its staff members were the kind of knowledgeable, highly opinionated music geeks that possessed a soulful recognition engine more powerful than any algorithm.”

Sax goes on: “I never went to June Records to buy a record. I went to June to go to June. To experience a humanizing moment, through commerce. To enter that space, interact with its goods and its personalities and walk out with something far greater than a copy of Bill Withers’s ‘+Justments.’

“My relationships with the staff at June Records were forged over their recommendations: Julia’s suggestion of Jennifer Castle’s dreamy ‘Pink City,’ Raf’s assurance that even my children would dig William Onyeabor’s minimal Nigerian disco and Andrew’s recent pick of an obscure Brazilian acid psych record that’s become the instant soundtrack of my summer. Sure, you can get help and suggestions shopping for music at an Urban Outfitters, but it’s not the same, because what I built at June over the years of transactions was something deeper: a sense of place.”

Churn, Sax writes, “is the normal course of commerce, the invisible hand working its efficient magic, shifting resources from less productive activities to others.” And, he says, “No place stays the same forever, and few of us want to live somewhere that is frozen in amber, where entrepreneurs cannot take a chance with their ideas and open a business. We seek the new, and the novel, and welcome improvements in our neighborhoods with open arms.

“But we also need places to anchor us. Novelty is wonderful, but only when balanced with the familiar. And when those familiar businesses close, for whatever reason, our reaction also occurs on a human scale. A sigh of resignation. A flood of memories. And sometimes, if you truly loved the place, a sadness so genuine it can trigger tears.”

It isn’t like June Records did anything wrong. The building in which it resided got sold and the landlord terminated its lease, no doubt to open a vape shop or some other such thing that will appeal to the moment, if not to the soul.

“Our emotional connection to stores, restaurants and other commercial spots whose loss we mourn has nothing to do with economics,” Sax writes. “These businesses give us the most pleasure because of their irrational exuberance, their daily chutzpah, which is what’s so humanizing about them.”

Sometimes you can fight the good fight, and still lose. But at least there is the satisfaction of knowing that you provided that emotional connection, that sense of place, that sensibility more powerful than any algorithm … all the Eye-Opening things that bricks and mortar stores have to do in order to have any chance of survival.
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