For the record

Last updated 11:43 16/02/2008
MARION VAN DIJK
PAST AND PRESENT: Greg Shaw, left, and Mike Beveridge outside Everyman Records in Hardy St.

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After three decades, Everyman Records is a Nelson institution with a colourful history. Nick Ward reports.

In the ever-changing world of retailing, it's unusual to find a shop that has ridden the ups and downs over the decades, outlasted its rivals and held off competition from the big chains to become a local institution.

Nelson's Everyman Records is one. Since 1975, it has occupied the same site in Hardy St - originally as a second-hand book and record store, more recently as just a music store.

If you can't find what you're looking for at one of the chain stores, chances are you'll find it at the place known affectionately as "The Everyman" - Nelson's own real-life slice of High Fidelity.

Everyman Records celebrated 32 years in business at Christmas. It is one of the last remaining independent record stores in the country, holding out against the bulk retailers and their big discounts on the latest top 20 release.

It is also thought to be the country's oldest such store, though owner Greg Shaw suspects that a Whangarei store may be slightly older.

He's not certain, "but I don't care - I know we're the oldest," he says with his well-known forthrightness and cheeky grin.

For the store's co-founder Mike Beveridge, there's the satisfaction and joy of seeing his brainchild still going strong.

Beveridge and Darryl Kennedy were teachers at Nayland College in 1975 when they decided they wanted to take their love of literature in a different direction.

Beveridge recalls that when he first voiced the idea of opening a second-hand book shop, his partner-to-be thought he was mad.

"It was a crazy idea, really. And it wasn't until another mate who lived with me said, `Have you thought about doing records?'. Bang! That made our fortune."

Beveridge and Kennedy found suitable premises in an old Victorian house, and set about turning their dream into a reality.

Kennedy's neighbour made the shelves ("We did his milk round to pay him back," Beveridge recalls), while his ex-wife made the signs. Shortly before opening, they noticed that they'd forgotten to get record bins, so some were quickly knocked up from an old dining table.

Their original stock included records bought from Nayland students. "We put posters up at school saying, `We'll buy all your Solid Gold Hits records if you steal them off your parents'."

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The store's name came from a 16th-century English morality play of the same name, which includes the line, "Everyman, I will go with thee in thy most need and be thy guide".

"The intention was that everyone felt comfortable coming in here - and they did."

The Everyman Book and Record Shop opened at the end of 1975, stocked with over 7000 books and 1000 records, as well as maps, prints and pottery.

Beveridge says it was a "lifestyle" business, operating on a week-by-week lease.

"It was thrill-a-minute - we just loved it.

"We were young and a bit naive. We spent every single penny we had, without any thought for the future, or mortgages, or children. We just really, really wanted to do it.

Sometimes, he says, "we had days when we'd go home almost crying, we were so tired" but "we didn't want to go home".

"It was all-consuming, really - in a wonderful way.

"It was a situation in which everyone felt happy, and a great place to be for everyone concerned, ourselves included. We'd get withdrawal symptoms over the weekends. There aren't many jobs where you're lucky enough to feel like that."

From the start, the Everyman was a store with personality. Surrounding businesses were a bit perplexed by the newcomer in their midst, from the staff's dress sense, which included such things as Swanndris and cowboy hats ("They'd say, `You can't come to work dressed like that!"') to the fluid opening hours, which could stretch far past the usual closing time.

"(People) thought we were just being cool, but we really had no idea. We were thrilled to turn up every day."

The Everyman soon began compiling its own top 20 lists, based not on sales but on "what we liked". Beveridge is also proud of the store starting an anti-nuclear petition soon after opening, "which was really daring in a small conservative town" and attracted tens of thousands of signatures.

The Everyman sold hundreds of books and records in a good week, and quickly became a popular Friday night shopping and socialising spot.

"You'd have 50 people in here on a Friday night, and you couldn't get out (from behind the counter). We were like cattle in a pen. It was like a party."

Shaw, a regular customer in those says, remembers it well, too. "You could walk up Trafalgar St and not see a soul, and come here and it'd be packed.

"I used to hate this shop because I never had any money, and they had bright green bags and I couldn't hide them. I used to get home and it was, `What have you spent your money on again?'. I got into so much trouble."

He says the Everyman popped up in the right place at the right time. "Their timing was impeccable. It was the end of a certain generation, music was changing."

Many customers expressed a desire to work there - and Shaw says he still has several people each week who wander in, looking for a job.

Well-known author Maurice Gee worked there in the early days as a relieving staffer. "We were so poor that Darryl and I would go for a coffee and then would have to find $1 or $2 to pay him," Beveridge recalls.

The Everyman also gained a reputation for the hidden treasures lurking on its shelves.

"We didn't have one day from the time we opened when we didn't have substantial numbers of books and records coming through the door," Beveridge says. "We couldn't believe what we were getting - first editions of all kinds". Not to mention the time someone brought in a second edition of Shakespeare's poems - "one of the few times my knees actually shook".

"People would say, `You've got one of the best collections of rare books we've ever seen'. We thought they were just being nice. It wasn't until I travelled a bit that I saw they were right."

The arrival of compact discs was greeted in a typically Everyman way.

"We'd tell (customers), `These are the new thing, and they're indestructible' - then we'd put them on the ground and stamp on them." But the store had no CD player, so customers were told: "If you want to hear them, you'll have to go to Beggs."

The Everyman later moved into stocking new records and new books. The books side of the business eventually lapsed, but by then the store's fame had spread throughout New Zealand, and even worldwide.

One of Beveridge's many anecdotes about this involves when he was in London and walked into the huge Tower Records store in Bond St.

"I found this record that I didn't know existed - I forget what it was - and when I went up to pay, the guy at the counter said, `You're from the Everyman, aren't you? That's the best shop in the world'. He turned out to be a guy from Wellington who used to come over and always found a book or a record that he liked."

Shaw says that because of Nelson's small population, visitors make up a surprisingly large part of the Everyman's business - and keep spreading the word.

Christine Cachemaille, who joined the staff in 1977 and became a partner four years later, says the Everyman lived up to its name.

"It crossed all social boundaries. Everybody was welcome in there, and everybody came - and everybody was mixed up together, and sometimes it was extremely funny. You'd have a genteel woman in twinset and pearls flicking through the Mozart records, and next to her would be a punk listening to something like the Exploited.

"There were regulars who came in every day looking for something special. There were people who used to visit every day just for a social visit. The passion of some of the young boys for music was phenomenal.

"I remember people crying when they would find a book. Some of them had been searching for 12 years, and they'd come in and there it was."

"In one part of my life, it was more fun being at work than it was being at home. When you walked through the door, you flicked into a kind of persona. You would think you were on stage."

She remembers that the Everyman's staff were also asked to put together music for restaurants, funerals and weddings, and occasionally acted as a "social service", steering young people towards more wholesome sounds if their parents expressed concern.

"We all had our strengths. We used to come across as cool people sitting behind the counter, smoking fags, drinking coffee, and it just looked so crazy. That's the sign of a good business - it looked relaxed, but a lot was going on in the background.

"We did huge hours. The '80s were huge. The time around the Gathering was huge."

Beveridge and Shaw describe Cachemaille as "marvellous", providing essential continuity during ownership shifts and being a saleswoman par excellence.

"I twice came in and there were guys coming out the door with a pile of records, saying, "I don't know what I'm doing here, I didn't want to buy any records, but this woman told me I couldn't pass them up - and I don't even own a record player'," Beveridge laughs.

Cachemaille says she was simply interested in "matching people to what they like and sending them home happy".

"I used to love the interaction with the people. That's why I think it was so successful - because people thought we were honest. We never tried to do the hard sell."

She says the store's biggest sellers were Elton John's Candle in the Wind remake tribute to Princess Diana, and Eric Clapton's Unplugged, mainly for the song Tears In Heaven. "When Karen Carpenter and Roy Orbison died, there were queues outside in the morning."

About three years after the Everyman opened, Kennedy left, and in 1981 Beveridge sold ¾ of the business to new partners Cachemaille, David Elder and Wynnis Armour, and the four ran it as a cooperative.

Beveridge left in 1987, and Shaw became a partner in July 1990, after 3½ years running a food business in Motueka ("to teach myself business"), and working for the railways before that.

Eight months later, Elder and Armour bowed out, and Vicky Brown - who Cachemaille says was extremely good at tracking down "obscure classical stuff" for customers - became a partner. Shaw bought out Cachemaille and Brown seven years ago.

He says continuity has been an important part of the business's success. "It's really important to me that the Everyman stays the Everyman." Two examples: the new releases stand is the original book stand from the original store, and the idiosyncratic top 20 lists remain.

But "sheer bloody-mindedness" has also helped. "I don't want to fail, and I don't want to explain to Mike why I did."

Shaw also claims to have pioneered CD discounting in New Zealand with a short-lived, separate discount store and the country's first $25 CD sale. Soon after buying out the other partners, he expanded the Everyman to accommodate that side of the business.

"I'd love this thing to be four times bigger, but it's just a matter of affording it."

Beveridge returned to Nelson three years ago after 18 years away, in Auckland and Whangamata. He says he can't believe that the Everyman is still going strong.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to be back here. Every second person I've met comes up to me and says, `I've got bloody cupboards full of your albums'.

"It has been a great pleasure for me to get to know Greg and having some input back into the place. It's a source of pride and pleasure to me that Greg has maintained the standard - and improved it. I think it's one of the best CD shops in the country."

For his part, Shaw enjoys having Beveridge around and "having him as a mate".

"I'd always wanted to met Mike. Then one day, this guy's in the shop. When they told me who he was, the first thing I said to him was, "You're a legend - I've been waiting all my life to meet you'. Then I asked him, `Do you like how we've done it?'.

"I think both of us agree that continuity is very important. But at the same time, the reason we're still here is because of change. The biggest thing about the shop and the reason we have survived is because we haven't been afraid to change."

Ticketing is now a major part of the Everyman's business - it's the main point of call for tickets to many local gigs and events, including the Nelson Arts Festival and, for a decade from its inception until 2002, the World of WearableArt awards (for which it also organised the music).

Since 2001, Shaw has branched out into distribution with Migraine Distribution, originally set up to handle discount CDs and genres like new country but now specialising in heavy metal.

He is a passionate supporter of the local arts. "I feel really strongly about that. We see ourselves as part of the arts community, part of Nelson."

Those who aren't regular Everyman customers probably know Shaw best as the chairman of the trust behind the project to restore Nelson's historic Theatre Royal. "If there had been no Everyman, the Theatre Royal wouldn't have been saved. When were were doing ticketing for people, we got sick of hearing them say it should be bowled."

You'd think that the gradual disappearance of independent music stores would have Shaw looking over his shoulder, but he's not worried about the competition from big chains like the Warehouse.

"Anyone who really likes music comes here. The thing that keeps us going is the back catalogue, not just the new stuff.

"People demand so much - that's why there's independent record stores and other independent retailers."

Others' loss has been his gain - Shaw says he has bought the fittings of "four or five" failed stores, including Nelson's Sounds store after it was caught up in that chain's recent collapse.

"You've got to have knowledge and you've got to have attitude, too. Without attitude, you're dead.

"We've gone through that whole thing of trying to be a chart store and following what the chain stores are doing, trying to be what we're not. It's come back to being what we want to be - and that's us."

He used to see digital downloading as a threat to the future of music retailing, but not so much now.

"You talk about digital downloads and people paying for it. If you really knew your computers, why would you pay for anything? Any teenager can tell you you can get on the Internet and get something for nothing."

Beveridge agrees, saying that buying music online doesn't provide the same satisfaction as "flicking through record bins and actually possessing it".

As the passionate, outspoken face of the Everyman, Shaw has no plans to retire any time soon.

"I got into the business as a lifestyle - and it becomes your life. You never, ever, ever leave it. I'm only now starting to feel like I can relax and let the staff run it.

"You can't own a business and not have a personal attachment to it. My kids have grown up with it. They walk in here and it's not a business, it's a home." Likewise, he says he treats his staff like members of his family.

"Business is tough compared with how it used to be. It's hard to keep the passion. I sometimes find myself referring to stuff as "product' or `units'.

Nevertheless, "it's still like my home. I still feel really comfortable here".

And the Everyman still has its offbeat side, such as hosting the "Nelson Idle" contest to find the city's worst performer during the arts festival, or the staff playing hacky sack outside during a power cut.

And, unlike some music retailers, "we have no problem telling somebody not to buy something".

 

 

 

- The Nelson Mail

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