Vancouver's only classical record store calls it quits after 40 years

In a business dominated by Spotify and Amazon, Sikora's Classical Records on West Hastings just can't compete anymore.

In a business dominated by Spotify and Amazon, Sikora's Classical Records just can't compete anymore

Sikora's Classical Records opened at 432 West Hastings Street in 1979. It will shut its doors for good Feb. 28, 2019, the date of its 40th anniversary. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

This is the story of a love affair that ends in heartbreak.

Only for Ed Savenye, the sorrow comes from the decision to close Sikora's Classical Records, the business he poured his heart and soul into for over 20 years.

"As you can imagine, it's pretty much the range of human emotions. There's obviously sadness ... and I'll be honest, anger in that a lot of people, for the sake of a couple of bucks, they just deserted us."

Sikora's Classical Records will close its doors for good Feb 28, 2019. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

Record and books stores are the serial victims of new technology and online commerce. Sikora's managed to keep going beyond what seems reasonable in a Spotify and Amazon world by offering human service in a niche market.

But reality finally caught up with the store at 432 West Hastings, and on Feb 28, 2019, exactly 40 years after Sikora's first opened, it will shut its doors for good.

Gathering place

CBC classical music executive producer Denise Ball says it's a sad reminder of changing times. To her, Sikora's was a place where the like-minded people gathered to explore music and learn from knowledgeable staff.

Ed Savenye first encountered Sikora's in 1991 as a customer. He became co-owner 10 years later. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

"It's the only remaining outlet for people who want to get classical music on an artifact, and as we all know, artifacts are going away," she said.

"What we are losing is that curatorial oversight, and we are left to Spotify to tell us what to listen to. But Spotify doesn't know anything about classical music."

Savenye, on the other hand, knows a lot about classical music. 

From customer to owner

He first entered Sikora's as a customer in 1991 and, like the character in HIgh Fidelity, never left.

In 1998, he got his first paying job in the store as "cash register grunt," a gig that eventually evolved into an ownership position with partners Roger Scobie and the store's namesakes, Dorothy and Dick Sikora. 

The saying "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." That was written about Savenye.

One of Sikora's more famous customers was actor David Ogden Steirs, who came into the store weekly during the years he was shooting Dead Zone in Vancouver. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

"You can schlep hamburgers or shoes or CDs, but at the end of the day, I've been exceptionally lucky to be working at this place, to be a customer at this place, owning and managing this place," he said. "There was always something rewarding to take home at the end of the day."

Saying goodbye

On Thursday, Savenye took time out to tell neighbourhood businesses and classical music colleagues the sad news in person.

"I did the rounds — the Vancouver Pen Shop, McLeod's Books, Vancouver Early Music and especially the Vancouver Recital Society. It was really tough, like telling someone that a close friend was dead," he said.

Spreading the word to loyal clientele has been equally difficult.  

"The customer part is just the collateral of our relationship now. When you see somebody every Saturday or Sunday for 20 years, they're way beyond a customer."

In the newsletter announcing Sikora's end, Savenye suggested the achingly beautiful "Morgen" by Richard Strauss as a fitting accompaniment.

There's a catch in his throat as he explains why he picked that particular composition.

"It just captures the loss and the resignation to the loss," he said quietly.

"It's perfect."