While the CBD slowly opens up, The Basement Discs still face a fight to see the other side

While the CBD slowly opens up, The Basement Discs still face a fight to see the other side

Words by Tom Parker

We chat to Suzanne Bennett from The Basement Discs about how her beloved record store is faring.

An adventure through the city for the music curious would most likely see you stop by beloved Melbourne CBD record store The Basement Discs. The vinyl haunt has captured the imagination of music-lovers for the better part of three decades now – infusing minds with the very best new music while showcasing talents on the stage as part of their popular in-store performances.

Sunk below Block Place off Collins Street, enter The Basement Discs and you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into a wonderland of history and lineage – there’s no one in the CBD who knows their music more than Suzanne Bennett and Rod Jacobs, the record store’s owners who previously worked at the classical, jazz and world music-leaning Discurio.

Yet now The Basement Discs is facing its most difficult challenge. With current social restrictions limiting CBD foot traffic to all but a bare minimum, the beloved record store has lost the largest section of its business. Now, digital ingenuity is a premium and Bennett and Jacobs have had to shift priorities.

“For a business that has never really had a big take-up of online sales, we have had to try to seriously encourage people to use our online store, have been sending out weekly email newsletters with new release info and pre-order info [and] tried to keep up with social media,” Bennett says.

Times are strange that’s for sure and it’s not excessive to say that if Bennett and Jacobs didn’t adapt, the writing would’ve been on the wall for The Basement Discs.

“It has been a very weird, strange and spooky experience staying open seven days a week (in a controlled way) right from the beginning, whilst [being] surrounded by totally closed businesses,” Bennett says.

“Up until a week ago, there were only two other stores open in The Block Arcade, and none of the stores or cafes in Block Place have re-opened as yet. So without online/email and phone orders – with virtually no foot traffic – we would not have even got this far.

Social restrictions are slowly beginning to ease but nothing can mirror the CBD rush of a pre-apocalyptic time – whether it be weekends, lunch breaks, smokos or post-work explorations, The Basement Discs would always attract a strong stream of keen music inquisitors and passersby.

“Takings have of course plummeted, and I am covering all bases myself, but the days certainly fly by. There are a few more people around this past week or so, but nothing like pre-coronavirus and now that people that have been working from home are being encouraged to continue to do so, [it’s] very hard to imagine when or if things will return to “normal” in the CBD,” Bennett says.

“It’s one thing for people to head out to their local cafe for take-away coffee, grab a mag, record, food supplies… but if you’re working from home, will you make a special trip into the CBD to shop? Hopefully ‘cabin fever syndrome’ will encourage peeps to seek out their favourite specialty indie CBD shops and get out and support us.”

Ever the positive souls, a large part of The Basement Discs’ continued survival must be put down to Bennett and Jacobs’ determination and optimism. The record store is their pride and joy and they won’t let it be defeated.

While their landlord has been courteous enough to arrange a reduction in rent, it will create a blockage at the end of the road. Bennett says they have signed up for JobKeeper, but then they’ll have to “hand that money over to [the] landlord to start the desperate ‘catch up’.

“Our landlord offered all Block tenants a 50 per cent decrease for three months at outset of pandemic, which seemed at the time very generous, but of course most of us are facing drastically-reduced income, well in excess of [a] 50 per cent downturn, so who knows really?” Bennett says.

“Mostly banks and credit providers have been incredibly helpful and supportive, with moratoriums, but of course those initiatives will not be ongoing indefinitely, and I think most businesses are very concerned for their future ability to start servicing debt at pre-coronavirus expectations whilst still operating in such an insecure, diminished and uncertain economic landscape.”

It’s difficult not to direct your gaze to the financial armageddon mounting, but all Bennett and Jacobs can do is keep their record store open and operate within their current capabilities.

If you after some fresh wax, while most of The Basement Discs vinyl is not online, you can call them on (03) 9654 1110 or email them on info@basementdiscs.com.au and the store will get back to you straight away regarding an enquiry. You can also buy CDs via their website and on the phone or through email.

They are offering free postage on CDs and heavily discounted post on vinyl but if you want to get out of the house and pick up a copy yourself, poke your head into the store at 24 Block Place in the CBD. They’re currently open seven days, Monday to Saturday from 11am to 4pm and Sunday from 12pm to 4pm.

While closed borders means stock is moving sluggishly or not at all internationally, The Basement Discs is still offering a fantastic range of new and second-hand vinyl.

Some recommendations from the music aficionado herself?

“Of recent newies that we have been able to get our hands on, would highly recommend The Teskey Brothers’ new Live at The Forum, Steve Earle’s newie Ghosts of West Virginia, Cowboy Junkies’ All That Reckoning, Tamikrest’ Tamotait, Pokey LaFarge’s Rock Bottom Rhapsody and Tami Neilson’s CHICKABOOM!

Support The Basement Discs by purchasing a record or CD via their website, over the phone (9654 1110) or via email (info@basementdiscs.com.au). You can also visit the record store physically at 24 Block Place in the CBD with opening hours mentioned above in the article.

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