The last of the musical dinosaurs shuffles toward extinction

Another record store in Shanghai is about to shut down as the nostalgia for music and discs of a bygone age is quietly fading away.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Customers pick albums and movies in Classic Music Store on Thursday.

It's been quite the hustle in the narrow dead-end at 64 Fenyang Road over the past few days. People, young and old, have come to bid farewell to an old friend. 

"Classic Music Store," a record shop that has been there for 14 years, closes for good on Sunday.

Fenyang Road, a tranquil street in Xuhui District, is sometimes called “the street of music,” for this is where Shanghai Conservatory of Music is to be found and was once home to many music shops.

But Classic is the last record shop standing in the street, perhaps one of the last of privately owned record stores in the whole country, a dinosaur, struggling to survive with an out-of-date shopping style in the face of the rise of the smart little mammals of e-commerce.

First DZMZ (Dazimingzhong) market, a sacred place for album lovers, was demolished in 2008. Then, more and more record stores hidden in backstreets and lanes disappeared. Copyright regulations tightened, digital music rose and the tiny bright lights of "real" music, were slowly snuffed out, one by one...

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Many racks in the store are already empty by Thursday.

Classic is justly famed among grassroot music lovers for its variety of genres and low prices. A goodly number of pirate CDs and DVDs stood back-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder with their legal cousins. If you couldn't find what you wanted at Classic, just ask, and a few days later, your needs may be mysteriously met.

It is not hard to find the store, especially in recent days. According to its owner, who insists on being called A Jiu (Mr Nine), the lease on the store will end soon, and he has no desire to sign a new one.

The store sells LPs, CDs, and DVDs, some legal copies, many not. It prints music scores for students at the conservatory. It even shoots commercials. “We sell whatever I’m interested,” A Jiu said.

A Jiu claims sales volume is good, but he has bigger fish to fry. "Fourteen years is long enough," he said.

When Shanghai Daily visited the store Thursday morning, many of the racks were already empty. What was left was piled up higgledy-piggledy on the floor, making it difficult to even find a place to stand. Customers with their heads in piles of CDs and DVDs were crammed into the tiny store. The air was musty, stale and stuffy.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The storefront of Classic.

Yesterday, A Jiu was not in the store opened in 2004 when he graduated from college, but spoke to us on the phone. 

"I started directing commercials for CCTV and others several years ago," he said, but resigned from CCTV in May and joined a startup. "Since then I have been pretty busy. I have no time for the store."

“Don’t touch that pile of DVDs. They are already sold. Look at the tags! What is wrong with you people?” an old lady yelled at two customers eying a pile of DVDs of a Japanese TV series. “No bargains here today, or tomorrow!” she shrieked.

Her name is Liang Ping. She is Mr Nine’s mother. She and her husband were left in charge of the clearance. They know little about music or movies. Whenever a customer tried to buy something, they took photos of the CDs or DVDs and sent them to A Jiu. A Jiu would reply with a price.

Old Zhou, A Jiu’s father, said his son has no intention of opening another record store. “Everything must go,” said Zhou. “We are exhausted.”

Many of the discs have been sold through WeChat. A Jiu’s friends have been constantly updating list of what's available for weeks.

“My friend told me the shop was clearing out, so I came to take my chances and see if I could find anything interesting,” said Huang Chenghao, a Japanese Showa music fan and a movie buff. He bought a couple of DVDs.

Lily Zhang came to the store with her little daughter and bought a pile of LPs for 720 yuan (US$104). “It is always sad to see a record store shutting down,” said Zhang. “Fewer and fewer people appreciate physical music products.”

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Classic Music Store scrawled its services on the wall at the entrance of the alley of 64 Fenyang Road.

When it first opened, people of different occupations, ages and classes congregated in the poky little store, looking for treasure among what looked like piles of trash. As e-commerce boomed, that treasure, generally original, legal copies of music from overseas, become quite easy to come by. Getting your hands on an original disk in China has never been less hassle, and much of the joy and kudos of ownership has been lost. 

“I haven’t been hunting for discs from stores for quite a while, you can find everything online,” said Qiu, a dedicated collector, “which to some extent explains why the quality and variety of discs in stores keep getting worse.”

Nonetheless, people kept filing in and out of the store. Some took piles of discs, some simply took pictures. Liang yelled some more and screamed at those who weren’t buying to get out. “It is really cramped here, please make some space.”

“It is a forlorn farewell,” said A Jiu. “But it’s alright. Tomorrow is another day.”

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