CMCO: Indie record shops in the Klang Valley bank on regulars to keep the music going


Anne Marie Cheong, the co-owner of Crossroads Records in Petaling Jaya, uses her phone to make a 'video list' of the shop's new arrivals. Photo: The Star/Muhamad Shahril Rosli

It's been a quiet few days at work for Crossroads Records co-owner Anne Marie Cheong since the conditional movement control order (MCO) came into effect in the Klang Valley on Oct 14.

The family-run independent record shop in Kota Damansara is usually noisier with Cheong's husband/shop co-owner Hafeez Rashid greeting customers, recommending music and also playfully scooping up the couple's two young daughters who visit the store.

Even with Crossroads' strict SOP compliance and "by appointment only" visiting hours, the couple are now making alternative work arrangements, taking turns to manage the shop while their children are kept home.

"The whole family can't be together at the shop now. At the moment, if we get a call for an appointment, we will open the store for a few hours... thankfully, we still have regulars who continue to support us," says Cheong, adding that Crossroads is also actively marketing its used records online.

The store was supposed to celebrate its fifth anniversary this year, but Cheong says she will be more relieved if it stays afloat as things are expected to slow down in the coming months.

"It's all about working hard to survive. I have been busy making 'video lists' and updating the shop's social media, promoting the new arrivals and specials. Just anything useful to get the word out.

"There will be minimal walk-ins right now. It's a reality that we have to face but our shop has to go on. I'm glad people are still buying LPs and CDs from what we have to offer virtually," adds Cheong.

Mohd Radzi Jasni (right), the owner of Teenage Head Records in Subang Jaya, will keep his store open daily during the conditional movement control order, while also concentrating on online orders. Photo: Ann Marie Chandy Mohd Radzi Jasni (right), the owner of Teenage Head Records in Subang Jaya, will keep his store open daily during the conditional movement control order, while also concentrating on online orders. Photo: Ann Marie Chandy

Teenage Head Records owner Mohd Radzi Jasni is relieved he managed to get his store's website up and running on Oct 9.

"The first MCO in March taught us many important lessons. We needed to get online quick and that's what we have been doing in the last few months, getting the store's inventory sorted out," says Radzi.

Teenage Head Records, which is based in Subang Jaya, will be open as normal during the conditional MCO, and Radzi is up to the task to run the physical store and website.

"It's best to be occupied, you can keep sane," he jokes.

This has been a year where Teenage Head Records has not organised a major in-store event, keeping its Record Store Day and album launch events on the sidelines.

"No big crowds at the store this year. We miss that music community energy, but everything has to be scaled down tremendously. We were grateful to have some low-key events at the shop in recent months.

"We are better prepared to deal with the pandemic situation now. If we have to shut (the shop), we have the website to fall back on," he says.

However, Radzi candidly mentions music lovers and crate-diggers will not abandon indie record shops.

"The itch to 'dig' is not something you lose overnight. I guess, we don't have people hanging out in the store for hours now. But I have noticed people walk in like they are on a mission.

"It's not like hoarding toilet paper, but it's great to see people buying a bunch of records to last time them a certain period of time. If you are staying home, it's great to have new records to play, and we are serving that demand," says Radzi, who adds Teenage Head Records maintains strict SOP guidelines, with three customers allowed in at one time.

"If you ask me what people are buying now, I would say it's not really sombre or depressing music to suit the times. Instead, we're still moving a lot of indie rock titles and reissues... I think people need their escape," he reveals.

At Trans Music Express, store manager Chang KK (in black) says the conditional MCO period will be another tough challenge for the shop, which opened one week before the original nationwide MCO in March. Photo: The Star/Daryl GohAt Trans Music Express, store manager Chang KK (in black) says the conditional MCO period will be another tough challenge for the shop, which opened one week before the original nationwide MCO in March. Photo: The Star/Daryl Goh

Chang KK, Trans Music Express store manager, hasn't decided if his Amcorp Mall-based record shop will be open throughout the week.

"We plan to open only on weekends. The conditional MCO will definitely affect us since we are mostly a physical store. We did get a couple of regulars over the weekend... but it wasn't as busy as usual, and we closed early," says Chang, who is thankful the relatively new record store (which opened one week before the MCO was enforced in March) has managed to attract a small following in the last few months.

On an average weekend in the last few recovery MCO months, Trans Music Express would attract about 50-70 people.

"People who hang out in record shops are a different breed. They are not your casual music fans... and that's encouraging for us. They might be staying home for now, but they will be back once things get better.

"There's nothing like spending a few hours digging and coming across a few LPs on your wishlist to distract you from today's gloom. It's also good new to find more people setting up vinyl sound systems at home and looking for records," adds Chang, who admits it will be a challenge to meet rental if the conditional MCO is extended.

"We had about five months to bed in and promote this shop. It is still a new player in town, and given we can't hold events, we will have to think of new ways to get us more notice on social media," he adds.

Meanwhile, Naza Mohamad, owner of Sputnik Rekordz in the TTDI market in KL, is not taking any chances at the moment.

"We will open the store only if we have requests from customers during the conditional MCO. Let's take it one day at a time. It's a hard decision to make since we spent a lot renovating the store last month. But it's best to keep safe now. We will keep our social media going, listing out an array of vintage records and used CDs," says Naza, who opened his store for a few hours over the weekend.

Naza isn't even planning to put out new LP shipments on the racks this month since he isn't expecting walk-in customers. But he will be counting on support from the shop's fanbase to keep things going.

"We will miss the browsers and talking to new people who visit. But we have to cope. This is where a loyal customer base comes into play. People that care about music will come through, call up the shop to find out if things are okay. That's the relationship you build with each customer, it's not some algorithm thing," he says.

In August, the MER[D]EKA initiative saw six independent bookshops in the Klang Valley joining forces for a “library card” project to share their audiences and boost sales.

"Any form of collaboration is a good thing, and the record store scene here is already filled with owners who are friends with each other. We're all holding things together the best we can now, but any community-based initiative that comes our way is most welcomed," says Naza.

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