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"For the sake of a couple of bucks, they deserted us": Vancouver's last classical record store to close

Sikora's Classical Records has been open 40 years, but couldn't survive the age of Spotify and Amazon

Sikora's Classical Records has been open 40 years, but couldn't survive the age of Spotify and Amazon

For 40 years, Sikora's Classical Records in Vancouver has been a hub for the classical community — but now they're being forced to close. (Facebook)

For decades, Sikora's Classical Records has been the go-to place for classical music lovers in Vancouver — but now, after 40 years, the beloved downtown business is closing its doors.

The store houses a remarkable number of titles — roughly 15,000 albums and thousands of CDs. To get a sense of just how expansive their collection is, they have 16 bins of Bach CDs alone, and 13 of Beethoven. They also have an impressive jazz collection.

The shop wasn't only a place to buy records; it was also a focal point for the classical community, and in addition to the many regulars, Sikora's drew classical-loving travelers from around the world, as well as artists from Ben Heppner to Marc-André Hamelin to Elton John.

The weekend after the owners broke the news, they hit new sales records. (Facebook)

But in today's music landscape, online monoliths such as Spotify and Amazon rule, and now even the small independent retailers who have managed to stay afloat through two decades of change are vanishing. 

Co-owner Ed Savenye became a clerk at the store 20 years ago, and worked his way up to manager and eventually joint owner. He's deeply saddened by the closure, but is also feeling a certain level of frustration.

"I'm feeling a sense of loss, sadness, and from a personal point of view, maybe some relief because the work is done — but also a touch of anger. I'll be honest about that," says Savenye in a telephone interview with q.

"Customers have every right to choose how and where and when you shop. We accept it. That's the reality of things. But the downside of that reality is that for a couple of bucks here, a couple of bucks there, and sometimes even spending more than they would have spent here, they decided to shopping online was more convenient. And so there has been a real sense of abandonment there."

Savenye put the sentiment even more bluntly in an interview with CBC News: "For the sake of a couple of bucks, they deserted us."

In a Facebook announcement, Savenye blamed what he calls "the five dirty D's": digitization (downloading and streaming), downsizing (people no longer have room for record collections), distribution (getting access to imports is increasingly challenging), desertion (people leaving for Amazon and other online sellers), and the saddest, demise — that is, the deaths of classical music lovers who continued to buy CDs and LPs.

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)

"Sorry to see this happen. I'm also sorry I haven't shopped there as much as I should have," said one commenter on the store's Facebook page, echoing Savenye's sentiment. "In an era of music shops closing down, it was so great to see you hang on, and a classical specialty store at that!"

"Sad thing is I have been avoiding buying CDs as my Vancouver apartment sizes have gotten smaller and smaller... 450 sq ft now," added another. "It's all tied in together."

What's more, other classical retailers are undercutting each other, adds Savenye, with large online retailers like Britain's Presto Classical selling albums for less than he pays wholesale.

Even though many diehard collectors moved online, Sikora's never followed suit, opting to stick with locals and visitors who came to the store looking for a specific title or simply browsing the seemingly endless bins of records and CDs. To create and administer an online database was simply too onerous, and too costly, say Savenye.

"We would have invested thousands getting stuff up there, and the first thing that people would have said? 'Oh wow, I'm looking at Sikora's and the album is $19.99, and Amazon is selling it for $13.68. I won't be pointing and clicking on Sikora's.' And we still wouldn't have sold the stuff," he explains. "So what can you do? Independents in any industry will never be able to compete with huge online retailers like that — whether you're in gardening or shoes or classical records. It's really hopeless."

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

According to CBC classical music executive director Denise Ball, the closure marks a great loss, because Sikora's was a place where classical music lovers gathered and learned from the knowledgeable staff.

"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," said Ball in an interview with CBC News. "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 agrees. He says that everyone knows some classical music, even if it's only through cartoons, movies or TV commercials, and many newbies — as well as more seasoned classical lovers — regularly come in looking for recommendations from the expert staff.

"That will be lost as well. I had a woman come in saying, 'I've tried to buy opera online and all I get is Andrea Bocelli and Charlotte Church,'" recounts Savenye. "She said, 'I'm sick and tired of trying to figure out what's opera and what's not and who's a good singer and who's not. What can you do for me?' And I said, 'Oh Decca, Operamania, five CDs for $29.99. That will expose you to everything you really need to know to get started in opera.' She bought that and was completely happy."

Now Savenye is breaking the news to other stalwart businesses in the area, as well as to the shop's fiercely loyal customers. Word spread quickly through Vancouver's music community which, ironically, led to a record-breaking level of business over the weekend.

"I'm only speaking in the time that Roger [Scobie] and I have owned the store, but we set the record for one-day total, and we've had the store since 2001," said Savenye. "So the largest single-day total in effectively 18 years. We blew it out of the water by about 30 percent on Saturday. It was impressive."

For a couple of bucks here, a couple of bucks there, and sometimes even spending more than they would have spent here, they decided to shopping online was more convenient. And so there has been a real sense of abandonment there.- Ed Savenye, co-owner of Sikora's Classical Records in Vancouver

Dick and Dorothy Sikora, who opened the business in 1979, now live in Portland, and are 91 and 88. The store will officially close on February 28, 2019, exactly 40 years after it first opened. Leading up to the closure, Sikora's is having a closing sale, with used titles already going for 50 per cent off, and new records going for 20 per cent off.

Savenye says he believes the composition Morgen by Richard Strauss is a fitting soundtrack for the news.

"It just captures the loss and the resignation to the loss," Savenye told CBC News, his voice quivering. "It's perfect."

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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