One of life’s great ironies is that many clichés are actually true. Familiarity breeds contempt. This does not just apply to people, but also to retail shops. Let me explain. You remember how you when you were growing up, there were certain store that you used to go in all the time – a milk bar, a record store, a second hand store – whatever it was. Years went by and the store was still there. You got older, but it was comforting to know that your favourite store was still there. Then years later, the store is gone. You had ample opportunity to take just one photo of your favourite store – but never did. You thought it would always be there right, so you never did. Many people lament that the competitive squeeze in retail over the years has gradually pushed these unique stores out of business with the consumer funnelled to multinational conglomerates, shopping malls and mega malls and the like. Let’s take music retailers for example. No longer does the little independent retailer exist. Nope, it’s a chain store, and it’s probably owned by some multinational retailer who also owns a glut of tyre, liquor and chemist stores. Ever get the feeling you’ve been conned ? If you are a youngun’ reading this, I hate to tell you, but the glory days of music retail (and rock ‘n’ roll for that matter) are locked away in the memory bank. As a record buyer in the late 70’s, 80s and 90s – I lived in record stores, which sadly, no longer exist.
Today I want to reflect on the ONE and ONLY music retailer in Canberra that dominated the retail landscape for over 20 years. Of course I’m talking about Impact Records. In the mid 80’s, Canberra had a reputation as the death metal capital of Australia, and with world class bands like Armoured Angel at the forefront, the metal scene burgeoned well into the late 80s with Alchemist and the like. Impact Records stocked a huge range of import metal albums, even stuff that was not seen in Sydney’s Utopia. Yet it was not just metal, there range was diverse and massive. It was a gathering place in Canberra for rock folk, people seriously into rock n roll (like me), pick up the gig guide, buy the latest import fanzines and always – tone and tons of LP records. I remember travelling down to Canberra many times from 1985 onwards – just to go to Impact Records. That’s how good it was. They used to occasionally have great sales too, with much of the stock dragged outside on tables. From memory, the original store used to be located upstairs on level 1 at the Boulevard Building in Akuna Street, Canberra. Another stalwart of the Canberra landscape, Electric Shadows cinema, used to be downstairs. I have strong memories of heading in here on cold winter days to pick up the latest issue of Kerrang! Or to check out the latest import metal LPs. I remember buying a Dio 12” and some other stuff in 1986. From then on, Mr Rockbrat and I made regular trips to the nation’s capital to head to Impact, to go “impacting”. There was Lucy from Armoured Angel behind the counter – and metal playing over the stores PA. Some years later, and Impact moved to bigger premises at the lower level of the Saraton Building, Cnr East Row & City Wlk, next to Kim’s Asian grocery. As the music landscape changed, and metal suffered a decline in popularity (thanks Kurt), music retailers like Impact went through a change too, as the shift from vinyl to CD was now well and truly in motion. Mr Rockbrat was forever in there buying the latest Kiss Fanzines, like Strike or Canberra’s ‘Sacrifice!’ Some time later though, as the new millennium crept in, Impact was bought out by a multinational, JB-Hi Fi. The store still stocked a full range, but the musical landscape had changed. By the mid 2000’s, I think around 2007, the doors were closed. JB Hi Fi still operates in different locations, but they are a soulless conglomerate that sells everything from computers to electronics, as well as CDs etc.
You never know what’s around the corner. In 1989, with metal being the dominant music, there was no reason to think that Impact would not last. Yet the star burnt out, and then you had the death of the LP, and then a few years on, digital downloads killed the CD star too – Music retail was not once it was – and for stores like Impact, the writing was on the wall. I often walk past the site of the original store, and think back to the mid 80’s when I was buying albums in there by bands like Znowhite and Armoured Saint. Good memories. Shall I end with a cliché ? Time moves on, but I still have the memory locked away. Maybe you have a memory of a favourite record store you’d like to share. If you do have a favourite store nowadays, go take a photo of it. 20 years later, like Impact, it may also just be a memory for you too.