We chat to Thornbury Records owner and manager Clayton Pegus about the tough journey to his new store.
Thornbury Records launched in the early months of 2011. At the time, Thornbury wasn’t quite the bustling locale of cafes, bars and boutiques it is today. Although it mightn’t be accurate to give T-Recs all the credit for catalysing this evolution, it was definitely one of the earliest examples of High St Thornbury’s rising hipsterdom.
Earlier this year, Thornbury Records celebrated its tenth anniversary. It was a bittersweet occasion, however, as owner and manager Clayton Pegus had recently been forced to abandon the shop’s original location.
“We had our ten-year anniversary without a shop, which is kind of crap,” says Pegus.
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The obvious supposition is that COVID overwhelmed the business’ financial viability, but T-Recs actually withstood any major pandemic-induced damage, largely thanks to its online store. Pegus had also started offering free local delivery and cheap postage to anywhere within Australia.
The problem arose when it came time to renew the shop’s lease. It was the early weeks of Melbourne’s second lockdown and not long after the imposition of stage four restrictions. It was in this context that Pegus’ landlords decided to raise the store’s rent by 70%.
As it turned out, the building’s original owner had passed away and his kids took over the property management.
“I’m pretty sure they’re just keen to sell it,” says Pegus. “We still had another three-year option so they couldn’t boot us out, but they could raise the rent to ‘market value’.”
This decision – to thrust a huge financial burden on a long-standing, reliable tenant – might make sense from a purely capitalist perspective, but the timing was near criminal, especially given Pegus lived in the property’s upstairs flat.
“We had to, one, find somewhere to live; two, find somewhere that had enough room to stick the entirety of a record store in a way that we could keep operating online,” says Pegus.
“We moved house during that lockdown, with no help from mates and with a curfew. I couldn’t go to house inspections. I literally couldn’t do anything.”
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He was able to find a two-bedroom house in Thornbury’s east with a bungalow out the back. He filled the bungalow with IKEA bookshelves and initiated an ad hoc filing system in order to maintain online operations of Thornbury Records.
On the plus side, business remained steady and Pegus gained reassuring insight into the loyalty of his customers.
“Especially when we were still in lockdown, we were a great place to buy records from because everything was closed and we were doing free deliveries,” he says. “We knew there was a limit to how long we could trade like that, but we were lovingly supported beyond lockdown and it got us all the way to here, which is great.”
Pegus is now ready to launch T-Recs’ new store at 374 High St, Northcote, just a few paces north of the Separation St/High St intersection. The store will officially open on Saturday May 15. As far as re-launch celebrations go, Pegus encourages people to come down, say hello, and buy some records.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks to fit out and build a whole shop. It’s been days and nights designing stuff, living in sawdust. So we’ll be inviting customers along to come and hang out, and all my friends that have helped out, and we’ll be open from then on.”
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As far as the material specifics go, not much has changed. Thornbury Records specialises in new vinyl, but the catalogue isn’t focused on any particular era or genre.
“We try to order absolutely everything,” says Pegus. “Once we’ve ordered something, even just one copy, we’re essentially collecting data on that release. And if it sells great, we’ll get more and if it doesn’t sell, we’re not going to restock it.”
The focus on new vinyl gives T-Recs the luxury of being able to order something again if it sells out. This means that what fills the shelves – a wide range, from jazz to country to local indie to classic soul – is essentially curated by the customers.
“I’ve got plenty of blind spots and anytime I get excited by a release and order in five or ten copies, they hang around for a really long time,” Pegus says. “Business-wise, it’s probably a bit unromantic and a bit robotic, but we essentially get everything and collect data.”
The new Thornbury Records is now located at 374 High St, Northcote and will enjoy its official launch on Saturday May 15. Current opening hours are 12pm-4pm from Monday to Friday and 11am-4pm on Saturdays. More info here.