In the recesses of Victoria’s historic Fan Tan Alley sits a narrow shop filled with music. Rows of records line the walls and fill the ceiling-high shelving unit that dominates the store’s centre. The fluid, wah-wah sounds of Sixties’ psychedelic, the sultry and sporadic swing of jazz and blues, the quiet and easy finger-picking of folk favorites, or most anything else can all be discovered within the tightly packed walls of the Turntable.
According to owner and operator Gary Anderson, a 60 year-old native of Victoria, the little record-store-that-could began in 1983-84 in The Public Market, located where Value Village now stands, before taking refuge in Canada’s narrowest street in 1986. Since that time the business has expanded and contracted like a slowly beating heart, growing into a multi-location establishment and shrinking back to its humble home in Fan Tan Alley as the record store industry surged and then receded around it.
Anderson’s interest in the industry began in late 1970 when he “babysat” a small, “Ma and Pa” record shop in Victoria that sold mostly 45’s and a few LP’s.
“Being that I was always so interested in it, I basically worked for this guy for free,” Anderson says as he leans against the shop’s cramped cash register counter. “I just wanted to be a part of it.”
The boom of digital and easy-to-steal music formats has depreciated the apparent necessity of a store like the Turntable, which specializes in used records, although they do carry some new releases. Digital downloading, however, lacks so many of the tangible joys that the music buying experience can offer, especially when dealing with used records.
“There are a lot of people who will say, ‘I wonder what this record’s story is,” Anderson says. “They’re holding this used record, its got some guy’s old signature scribbled on there, a couple digs in it, and they wonder ‘what was this record’s journey?’
And what about human connection? Sure, it is easy enough to Google a band or an album and learn about its history. But passing that information from person to person, like the oral storytelling traditions of ancient and indigenous cultures, reveals the idiosyncrasies and subtle nuances of a recording in a way that Google cannot.
“We have a lot of knowledge because we’re old,” laughs store manager Ernie Brach, 54, his purple tipped goatee lifting and falling as he speaks. “We’ve listened to music our whole lives, so when people come in and they are curious, they like this band or that band, and we can turn them on to another band, then I feel just like when I was a kid and someone was doing that for me. It’s nice to see because anybody who gets to listen to a tune they’ve never heard before and it makes them go ‘wow,’ gets a real sense of wonderment.”
With Record Store Day on April 21 quickly approaching, Anderson and Brach share a somewhat nonchalant view of what this day means for their store.
“I think everyday is Independent Record Store Day,” Brach says. “People will come in and say ‘what are you going to do for me on Record Store Day?’ so we’ll give them a deal. That fifteen dollar record is all of a sudden ten or twelve bucks, how’s that?”
Anderson and Brach, as well as most people you will see hanging out in the Turntable, live music. Their passion can not be contained so it is shared. If you buy a record from them, they will tell you about the history of that particular pressing. If they have any other pressings of the same record they will play them both for you and explain the differences in sound quality and the reasons for those differences. Their knowledge is canyon deep and lined with honest appreciation, not only for music, but for vinyl itself.
“I want everyone, from when they’re 13 years old to when they’re 70 years old, to come in and have fun,” Brach says. “When I see people walk out of here with a smile on their face, whether they bought anything or not, if they have a good time then we have done our jobs properly.”
By Dylan Toigo