Small Business Spotlight: Vinyl Van | August 2023Wednesday, August 30th, 2023
This month, Dorchester BID’s Small Business Spotlight shines on Vinyl Van!
Vinyl Van opened in 2019 – its name a nod to their roots of selling vinyl records out of their VW van at festivals. I recently visited Vinyl Van in Dorchester’s Brewery Square and sat down for a good chat with owner Marcia Smith!
Upon walking in the shop I was immediately taken aback by the unique decor. In fact, their VW-style counter with light-up headlights is the centrepiece to the shop – another ode to their origins (shown below).
Vinyl record shop in Dorchester
My eyes were then drawn down the shop by rows of records neatly lining the walls; fantastic art and more vinyl above, and reggae-inspired stools below. Overhead, the shop is monitored by the eye of the tiger plushie for some reason (I’ll see myself out), which only adds more eccentricity to the style. All of which tie Vinyl Van’s original vibe together. The brown and orange palette gives the shop a traditional look, whilst also drawing on more modern decor touches to create a really timeless feel. After having a browse of the records and a good chat with owner Marcia, I quickly realised that this combination of old and new features throughout their music collection and in their customer base, too. Its the foundation of their originality as a business and the catalyst of why vinyl has made a comeback!
Vinyl Van is truly a passion project for owner Marcia and her partner Helen. This is quickly apparent when you step in the shop, and even more so when you chat to them. They represent everything that is so special and unique about shopping in Dorchester.
I chatted history, owning a record shop, the resurgence of vinyl, current state of music and future predictions with owner Marcia Smith.
With owning a record shop you must have been strongly influenced by music. What can you tell me about the records and genres that influenced you growing up?
I guess my passion growing up, I first really got into music in the early ’80s. So, it was a bit too late for punk and I started getting into bands like Joy Division. The Fall were a band that I followed loads sort of through my teens. I just loved music and hearing new music. I suppose in my teens I started getting into reggae and then world music, soul, funk and hip hop and all of that side. So that’s really where music has taken me. I feel like music just keeps giving – you discover old music and new music.
So, fast forward to 2019 and you own a record shop. How did Vinyl Van start and why did you decide to open in Brewery Square?
So, it started because there was a record shop up for sale in Bridport and I started thinking ‘ooh, I’ve always loved records, perhaps that’s something I could do’. I couldn’t afford it so I decided not to, but in the meantime my partner sort of said ‘you’ve got a van and you go to festivals. What about selling them out of there?’. So, we just started trying a few little festivals. We weren’t planning to and I didn’t think we’d have a shop at the end of it, but one thing led to another really. End of the summer, bad MOT on the van, started doing the Friday market outside Boots in the Cornhill market. That was going well but the weather was getting bad so I started looking for a pop up shop pre-Christmas. Saw this. To be honest, I thought Brewery Square would be the most expensive place in the area but it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all, it was actually very competitive, very reasonable compared to other places. Having a Premier Inn opposite, train station, the square, I just thought ‘this is a great spot’. So, I took the plunge!
Amazing. How are you finding it all?
Loving it, yeah. We’re doing what we love. The people we’ve met through the shop have been fantastic and our customer base is a real mix of ages and genders.
How does it compare to work you’ve done before? I’ll assume you’ve done some jobs that haven’t exactly been passion projects?
Totally. I’ve worked a lot more in the past in supportive housing, social care, mental health issues, drugs, alcohol, disabilities and that sort of thing. Loved that, but then I went on to the job that brought me to death. I did corporate planning. So, this feels like not working, and I’m doing more hours than I have for years! I love it. Come in, put a record on and it’s great. The fact that I’m doing something that’s my passion is just brilliant.
If I made you choose only three albums to take on a desert island and listen to these exclusively for the rest of your days, what three records would you pick?
Ah, that’s so mean. I hate these kind of questions!
That’s why I’m here. I’ve got to ask these things!
(laughs) I know. Let’s put in Tom Waits’ ‘Rain Dogs’. They’re just about to re-release that and it’s a crazy album. I love that. I’d put in ‘Sandinista!’ by The Clash and maybe ‘The Artistry of Nina Simone’ by Nina Simone: the first album by Nina that I bought.
You’ve given me some recommendations here, I’ll have to go away and listen. Can you talk to me about any really special records you’ve had in? Anything rare or valuable? Obviously you’ve had a lot of stuff in!
We have had a lot of stuff in! We had a lovely Jazz collection a while ago that had a lot of original blues notes. It felt like such an honour to be cleaning them, playing them and handling them. They just sound fantastic. I picked up 8 crates of 90s and 2000s hip hop albums last week. This is an incredible collection and the person had really looked after it and knew what they were doing.
Do you get most of your collection from individuals then? People who are looking to part with them?
Totally. We buy new vinyl and represses of classic albums from a whole range of labels and companies, but the majority of our 2nd hand stuff is actually people just phoning up or coming in. We’ve never had to chase or advertise. We sort of get a bit swamped with it! One thing you that’s lovely which you realise is there’s a lot of vinyl in the world and a lot of it is still in peoples’ lofts and garages. You know, if it was in good condition when it was put away and it’s been kept upright etc. then it’s going to sound like it did when it was recorded.
Absolutely. How big is is your record collection roughly? Do you know?
No, I don’t (laughs). Because at home actually now is not that big because most of it’s here. When we first started going out of the van we were selling records that I still have left. So, my record collection is largely merged with the shop collection… although I’ve got a fair bit stacked out there (points at the back office). I still have quite a lot as these days we still DJ from the van. 12″ and 7″ are useful for that. There’s quite a few records as they come in I divert them off. But, I can’t keep them all, clearly!
It must be cool having your pick of the bunch – being able to nab certain things!
Completely, yeah. And also when represses come in I go ‘I’ve been waiting for this one to come in’. So, I get half a dozen in for the shop and a couple of ones for me. It’s not a bad game!
What do you think of the current state of the pop music industry? Can you see anyone becoming one of the ‘greats’, regarded in the same way as Bowie or Mercury in 30/40 years?
Interesting. One thing I notice is that a lot of people for years have understated current music. I remember in the ’80s people used to say ‘oh music’s rubbish now, it was so much better in the ’60s’. I think if you look at the charts from any year since they started doing them – 90% of it you don’t want to listen to in 10, 20, 30 years later. But there’s a small percentage that do hold up. Who’s going to be one of the greats? It’s interesting isn’t it. I think hip hop has managed to stand the test of time a lot better than a lot of people thought when it first came through. Some of the classics now. I think people like Tyler The Creator will be held up and looked back on. Lana Del Ray is very popular now and I think she’ll be looked back on. It’s hard to know with people like Taylor (Swift) and Harry Styles who are very ‘of the moment’ and what longevity they’re gonna have.
I think there’s a bit more originality with Tyler and Lana as well. They might not be as big in size as Harry and Taylor Swift but in terms of the actual music it seems to be more timeless.
You’re completely right. The stuff that stands the test of time isn’t always the biggest. The Elton John’s and the ABBA’s always will be but there’s a lot of popular stuff at the time that doesn’t necessarily have the longevity. But there are some things, things like Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. We just have to keep getting it in! Or Nevermind by Nirvana, Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. There are some records which people the first time round know it to be a future classic. Abbey Road is another great example.
In the same line of thought, do you think we’ve seen the last of the ‘great’ rockstars? Noah Gallagher quite famously said that bands like Oasis, Pulp and Blur marked the end of the rockstar era. What do you think?
Yeah but you know, the Gallaghers were quite famous for saying a lot of stuff (laughs). I remember when they said that hip hop didn’t belong at Glastonbury and Jay-Z came on and completely wiped the floor with him.
And now a hip hop artist headlines almost every year!
Totally! The Gallaghers were very good at what they did and Oasis are still very popular with lots of people. They never totally did it for me as I think they’re a bit more traditional as rock and roll stars. I think there will always be people reviving old sounds and making it their own. The (Rolling) Stones did that to blues before and Oasis did that to The Beatles and The Stones. People keep moving stuff forward! I think were will be stars but it’s slightly different now because of the global reach of the internet and the fragmentation of everything. You know youth culture before with The Beatles and The Stones because there wasn’t a huge amount of choice!
I think the argument for the classic rockstar era being over is that there was a seismic shift with youth culture before. Artists affecting fashion and movements. I suppose hip hop is more of a focus now. Rock and metal are they genres I love most but they aren’t quite as big as they were in the 80s and 90s.
No, and I think like with lots of things it’ll still maintain. I think the same was the blues is still popular, but it’s not as big as it was in its prime! Lots of things have had their heyday but there’s still a lot of people who enjoy jazz, rock and metal. But again, I feel a bit sorry when kids come in looking for metal and I sort of have to say to them ‘you’re better off going to Bridport’ because it’s not a genre I know a lot about so I tend to stick to stuff that I really enjoy. The trouble is I know ‘The Black’ is good but I couldn’t pick out the best Metallica albums. If I’m buying reggae or whatever then I’ve got a better idea.
Do you listen to most stuff that you put out then?
Yeah, particularly with this side (points to left wall lined with records). The world, the hip hop, the reggae, the funk. We’ve always got stuff playing. All of the 2nd hand stuff we check, clean and play, but you know, we won’t be having The Sex Pistols or ABBA playing as people are walking in so we tend to play what fits with the shop. But yeah, when there are no customers in here than all sorts gets played. It’s quite a mash up!
What does the future hold for Vinyl Van?
It’s hard to say as we didn’t plan to be where we are, but what I can tell you that in about two weeks time we’re taking down the adjoining wall to next door. My partner Helen is taking over the lease of that and we’re going to run two business in the one space, call it ‘The C-Side’. You know, as the ‘C Side’ of the record but also for the community side and the clothing and café. We’ve been doing stuff here like college workshops and sewing – bringing stuff back to life. Live music. But it’s a bit tight in here, so with having a bigger space, the idea is that we’ll keep the shop selling vinyl but also have a lot more space to do a lot more community type events and enjoy working with people. Somewhere for kids after school to hang out.
You don’t see a lot of that any more. Obviously record shops were great hang out spots back in the day but there really isn’t a place for kids to chill and learn about music now.
Yeah. I love the fact that we get a lot of youngsters in here because it brings a different energy and what I didn’t want was to just have a retro shop. There’s a few nods to the past here but we’re also forward-looking.
I think some people wouldn’t expect to see young people come in to learn about music so it’s nice to see the younger generation really getting into vinyl. It wasn’t that popular even a few years ago.
Exactly, it’s great. We had Anonymous Festival in Borough Gardens yesterday. Autumn who is 15 started coming here as we do a Joy of the Decks (open deck night) once a month and she started coming along to play records. Now she’s won the DJ competition and in the park, opening Anonymous Festival – and she’s 15! She DJing with vinyl and she’s got the passion.
The future’s bright isn’t it.
Yeah, and it’s lovely. You do realise it’s stood the test of time. A lot of us were concerned that vinyl largely disappeared. But you know – stuff sounds good on vinyl!
Exactly. I wonder if CDs will continue to phase out or have a resurgence. They haven’t really got the integrity of vinyl!
They are. It’s difficult and because when you digitalise music you compress it and lose some of the quality. Someone said to me once ‘I know if vinyl scratches it doesn’t sounds great but have you ever heard a CD skip? It sounds horrible!’. It’s interesting because some CDs now are worth quite a bit, which is because of scarcity. There’s that CD by Dido, ‘No Angels’. You see it in every charity shop because it was a huge album and it was everywhere. Someone came in once looking for it on vinyl as his girlfriend wanted to frame it. I had a look and it’s £200 on vinyl! Which is because there’s just not many copies out there! But one of the things that’s nice now is that with things that are normally hard to get, they’re repressing stuff that before would cost you an arm and a leg for a scratchy old copy. You get the same artwork and a brand new piece of vinyl. Some purists might want the original vinyl but for most it’s about the music.
Where can people find you?
Brewery Square! Just down from Dorchester South Train Station. One minute walk down as you’re going down to the fountain. We’re on the right the opposite the Premier Inn. We’re open Tuesday to Saturday 10-5 and also on Instagram and Facebook. Helen does Facebook and I do Instagram but they’re largely combined!
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Why you should visit Vinyl Van
Much like how the originality of music can influence its longevity and continued popularity, we’re confident that Marcia’s unique shop and ongoing commitment to bringing in records for people to discover will see Vinyl Van go from strength to strength.
If you are a music lover or are looking for a gift for someone who lives and breathes music then you really can’t look past Vinyl Van. You’ll find them bringing the party at various venues and events in the local area, but do make sure you also support them by visiting their shop!
SHOP | You can find Vinyl Van at 8a Pope St in Brewery Square – opposite the Premier Inn (DT1 1GW)
VISIT | Vinyl Van is open from 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday
WEBSITE | Visit the Vinyl Van website for more information
Discover more places to go Shopping in Dorchester!