I’ve been taking day trips to smaller towns in the Ottawa Valley this summer. Naturally, I check out the local record store. While in Perth, it was suggested that I check out Backbeat Books and Music. It was a great suggestion.
Backbeat is owned and operated by the family team of Christine and Dan Chu and their 9 year old son Tenzin. Backbeat was originally opened in 2011 by Johnny Pigeau. Christine and Dan bought the business in 2013 and it remains at the one and only location at 6 Wilson Street West in Perth Ontario in 2013.
Dan is an Ottawa native while Christine was born in Guelph. They met in Ottawa in 1995 and, as Dan happily stated “[they] have been together ever since.” The bond may have come from their complimentary loves of books and music. When you walk into Backbeat you find that Christine’s book domain is on the left, while a turn to the right takes you into Dan’s world. But, it didn’t go unnoticed that on the border between these worlds was a small selection of music related books. I made a purchase from this rack – Vinyl – The Art of Making Records by Mike Evans.
Unlike some record store owners, Dan is not a musician trying to keep the dream alive. He told me that very simply, “I’ve always enjoyed music and still get excited when I discover or am introduced to something new and different that I hadn’t heard before.” I can’t think of a better reason to buy a record store.
Beyond Dan’s love of music, they chose to buy Backbeat “[because] Christine’s passion is reading and mine is music so it was a perfect opportunity for us to do something together that we would both love.”
I asked Dan if Backbeat has experienced the resurgence in vinyl?
“We certainly have, when we started operating Backbeat in 2013 CDs and records were a pretty even 50/50 split in sales. Now, I couldn’t tell you the last time we sold a CD. We renovated the store in the winter of 2016 to accommodate four times the amount of records that we have in stock.”
I’ve noticed some nostalgic interest in cassettes.
According to Dan, “there’s been a little bit of interest in cassettes the past year and half. We sell more used tapes than we do CDs. Some artists are now releasing albums on cassette again which is a tad mind boggling, we haven’t gotten into the new cassette market (yet).”
What are your musical tastes?
“I’m all over the map. I’m always discovering new music and new sounds that I like. I don’t pigeon hole myself at all but definitely lean to more indie and obscure stuff. I was a goth kid so looking back at those years I was a huge fan of Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Dead Can Dance, etc. “
Can you walk me through your vinyl collection?
“When you own a record shop I think the expectation is that you will have a huge personal collection of albums. To be honest, I really only have about 100 records I would never sell. I look at the stock we have for the store as my collection. I can dig in and enjoy whatever is around at the time. If I sell that copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, I know another copy will be in soon enough and I can give it a spin when it’s here again.”
What are you customers buying and looking for?
“Really, I don’t think there is one way to categorize what everyone is looking for. Obviously the classic albums are always sought after and don’t tend to stick around long when we have them. Some people only come in and check out the discount bins and some others are looking for the rare and hard to find albums. Everyone is different when it comes to musical tastes and collecting records but one thing I have noticed is that vinyl lovers are music lovers and tend to have a varied musical palette.”
What are the sales of turntables like?
“We sell both new and used turntables. For new tables we have focused on the entry level audiophile tables from Pro-Ject, Rega and Music Hall. We feel we offer a more laid back environment than a high end audio shop. There are a lot of cheap turntables with integrated speakers available on the market but we don’t feel they offer the sound you should expect to get from a well mastered record, that’s why we don’t stock them.”
I bought a Prince Record Store Day release – what was Record Store Day like for your store? Have you participated in previous years? Would you participate again?
“Our store anniversary actually lands on or around Record Store Day every year so it’s a great time for us to celebrate. We have participated for 4 years now and always look forward to it. It is our busiest day of the year and it’s great to see all the regulars come in and support us.”
And of course – why vinyl – what draws you to it?
“As a music lover it’s great to be able to slow down and focus on just listening to an album. It’s like a small ceremony that other music formats don’t offer in the same way. Of course we can talk about the sound quality too, a well mastered album can envelop you with sound that you can’t always get with other music formats.”
In addition to vinyl, tapes and CDs, Backbeat has a good selection of used turntables. I saw some very good quality vintage turntables that could be had a very reasonable prices. I spend a lot of time on Kijiji and similar sites looking at vintage turntables and audio equipment, so I speak with some confidence in saying that Dan gives very good value on this equipment.
If you’re on your way to or from Ottawa, be sure to make time for a short side trip to Backbeat Books and Music in Perth.