Most of Ottawa’s Old HMV Locations Have Reopened as Sunrise Records. Here’s Why You Should Support Them

When news broke back in February that HMV was closing its doors coast to coast to coast, I was genuinely bummed out. I loved HMV, particularly at the holidays. It was almost a one-stop shopping gift buffet where you could pick up music, movies, geek merchandise and maybe even a book or two. Toss in some wrapping paper and a few chocolates and I was two thirds of the way to finished. I even hastily wrote a column on HMV’s demise, which was essentially a rambling good-bye letter where I rehashed some depressing facts and wore my love for their annual Christmas movie wall on my literary sleeve (for the record, I’m still holding out hope the Yuletide Wall makes a comeback).

And if you ever needed to kill a few minutes in the mall? HMV was the kind of place you could do that, usually chatting entertainment or geek news with generally knowledgeable, usually friendly staff. I just genuinely loved the place.

And then it was gone and I felt the way millions of Americans probably felt when Tower Records was forced to close shop in 2006.

So you can understand my elation weeks later when Toronto based Sunrise Records announced they were taking over 70 of HMV’s old locations, saving over 700 of the more than 1200 jobs that were in jeopardy. I was even more pleased to learn that most of Ottawa’s locations were going to be re-opened beneath their new brand (the Rideau Centre, Place D’Orleans and Carlingwood locations are already open, though they are still fine tuning).

But in the back of my head, buried beneath the glee and nostalgic anticipation was one very important question: how would Sunrise, offering much the same product and selection, win where HMV was forced to surrender? I lamented to co-workers repeatedly about how sad HMV’s closing made me, to which the usual response was “So? I just stream everything now.” And I got more than a few shrugs of the shoulders and an ”I just download everything.” For those keeping score, downloading is just a more acceptable word for piracy (some experts believe Canadians pirate up to two and a half times per capita as much content as Americans).

There was a general (and ruthless) sentiment of obsolescence about the old chain and the product it offered. It seemed the prevailing thinking was “this doesn’t affect me, so why would I care?” How would Sunrise overcome that apathetic indifference?

Here’s why you should care. It isn’t just about empty stores and lost jobs, it’s about distribution. According to musicologist Alan Cross (who knows just about everything there is to know about music), HMV represented up to 25% of physical music sales in Canada, with Canadian artists representing a large chunk of those sales. When HMV announced they were throwing in the towel, the Canadian music industry faced a loss of up to 2.5 million CD and record sales. In an industry that has contracted significantly the last few years, seeing 2.5 million sales evaporate overnight would have been catastrophic (many Canadian artists successfully used HMV to offer collector sets and special editions, product often shunned by the likes of Walmart).

The music game is nearly impossible to break into and it’s only become harder since the digital revolution. The loss of such a retail presence overnight would have made life that much more difficult for young and emerging artists. In fact, Sunrise plans on offering a stronger focus on local artists as well as the resurgent vinyl market.

Simply put, HMV was and now Sunrise is the market for Canadian musicians. Take that away, and you essentially close the market. Imagine trying to make a living as a farmer if all of a sudden the markets that carried your crops closed across the entire country and there was nowhere else to sell them. That’s the barrel Canadian artists would find themselves staring down without a dedicated retailer.

Perhaps my concern isn’t warranted. Sunrise has admitted their financial investment is lower than you might expect (somewhere around seven figures). They’ve been successful operating in suburban Toronto (even competing against HMV for years) so they obviously know what they’re doing. Now the question is whether or not they can translate that business model nationally as they try to fill the void left behind by HMV.

Here’s hoping they can and everyone should be rooting for them.