'It's a big gamble': Record stores sound off on Sunrise's HMV takeover

Record stores across the country are hopeful Sunrise Records' HMV takeover will work out, but experience has left them skeptical about the big move.

'In this day and age, it seems insane,' says Vancouver independent record store manager

Toronto's Sunrise Records will be replacing HMV outlets in Canadian malls from coast to coast. The focus will be on vinyl records, according to the company's president. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Record stores across the country are hopeful Sunrise Records' HMV takeover will work out, but experience has left them skeptical about the big move.

Toronto's Sunrise announced last week it will be taking over 70 HMV stores in malls across the country, with the aim of having them up and running by midsummer and turning a profit by next year.

If it works, it's a boon for the industry, said Spencer Destun. But he's got his reservations. Destun runs the last surviving Sam the Record Man location at Belleville, Ont.'s Quinte Mall. Since opening in 1979, he said, he has seen about eight or 10 chains come and go — and his store is all that's left of Sam the Record Man.

Sunrise is taking over 70 stores that HMV is closing. (CBC)

"It's very tough to operate a store in a profitable manner today because the market is shrinking," he said.

"I can't even imagine the amount of organization and work that's going to take. Thank God they have some experience in the marketplace."

Sunrise currently has 10 locations in suburban Toronto and rural Ontario. Destun said he can't think of another instance in any industry where a business has tried to "tenfold their increase."

"If they succeed, it's good for everybody … it speaks for the health of the industry."

Vinyl the 'bread and butter'

In an interview with CBC News, Sunrise president Doug Putman touted vinyl's "huge potential" and said it would be at the front of the reopened stores.

Jonathan Boudreau, who works at Taz Records in downtown Halifax, thinks that's a smart move. He said vinyl is a bigger seller for Taz than CDs. "It's definitely our bread and butter."

But it can be a fickle industry, something Boudreau knows first-hand.

He has been working in record stores for 17 years — since he was 14. With the exception of Taz Records, every store he's worked in has closed. During that time, music technologies and trends have come and gone, taking stores with them.

"You never want to see a business close," he said, wishing Sunrise luck. "The rising tide floats all the boats."

Neptoon Records manager Ben Frith said that if Sunrise's venture is a success, 'it very much legitimizes the revival of physical music.' (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Ben Frith thinks the transition will be tricky. He is the manager of Vancouver's Neptoon Records, his father's shop, where he has worked since he was a child.

"It's hard enough to get one store up and running smoothly, let alone 70 all at once," Frith said. "In this day and age, it seems insane."

Frith said that if Sunrise is to survive, it has to do something different from HMV.

He thinks HMV failed because it decided to stray from music in favour of selling other types of merchandise. Even with a vinyl push, Sunrise is still planning to sell CDs, apparel, merchandise and board games.

Frith's advice for the company is to focus on music and make sure it listens to what local customer bases want.

"If you sit and control something from an office for a whole country, it's not going to work."

'Far from a lost cause'

Although there have been doom-and-gloom stories about struggling music stores, Frith said "it's definitely far from a lost cause," particularly when it comes to vinyl.

A telling sign has been the shoppers coming into Neptoon buying classic, older records that never used to sell but are becoming popular again, like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.

Expanding the market for vinyl across Canada

5 years ago
Duration 2:22
Sunrise Records is buying up 70 HMV Canada stores as demand for vinyl grows 2:22

"It just blows our mind that this record we could barely give away a few years ago, people are paying $30 for now for a reissue." He said they'll sell up to 10 copies of the record on a busy day.

It's why Mark Poppen started his online record store Funky Moose Records in the summer of 2015. He noticed there was a demand and had always liked collecting records, so he started selling them online from his home in Bellevue, Sask. He now has customers from all over Canada and may open a physical retail store one day.

"It's a good thing for the whole vinyl industry," he said of the takeover.

"It's a big gamble … I hope they can pull it off."


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.

With files from Renee Filippone


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?