The shift to streaming services was already hurting the indie music institution's bottom line when the pandemic hit
Toronto record store Soundscapes will close this spring after 22 years in business.
“The last 20 years have seen a golden age in access to the world’s recorded music history both in physical media and online,” a statement on the shop’s website reads. “We were happy to be a part of sharing our knowledge of some of that great music with you. We hope you enjoyed most of what we sold & recommended to you over the years and hope you will continue to seek out the music that matters.”
Soundscapes staffer Phil Liberbaum tells NOW a lot of “soul searching and number crunching” went into the decision to close.
“Ever since the pandemic hit we were on shakier ground,” he says, explaining that the shift in music formats from physical media to streaming led to steady decline in business over the past 10 years.
The store’s biggest sellers nowadays are legacy artists, Liberbaum says, and steep prices for vinyl albums mean the pool of shoppers tends to be limited to older, collector types.
“More and more the price of vinyl albums had become really high,” he says, adding the number of albums getting the reissue treatment has slowed. The market trends coupled with high rent, high property taxes and the lack of concert ticket sales due to cancelled live shows meant “the pandemic eventually sealed the deal.”
Through it all, Soundscapes has maintained a loyal group of customers, but the last two lockdowns were particularly hard on the store, which Liberbaum calls “a labour of love.”
“We had a significant number of loyal customers who came in during the reopening in June after the first lockdown,” he says. “But it wasn’t enough.”
Located at 572 College in Little Italy, Soundscapes is having a sale ahead of the closing date, which will be “sometime in May.”
Opened in 1999 by former accountant Greg Davis, Soundscapes became a hub for the city’s indie music scene, hosting in-store performances, selling concert tickets, stocking independently released local albums on consignment, and hanging artfully designed gig posters in the window display.
Davis carefully curated all aspects of the store, including notes from staff on their picks, as well as excerpts from reviews in music magazines on the new release wall. The store also stayed open late, meaning it wasn’t unusual to see people quietly browsing around 11 pm as partiers filtered in to the bars and restaurants along that strip of College.
And given the cozy, library-like environment Soundscapes cultivated, it’s not surprising the store had teamed with the Toronto Public Library on a local music program. It has also been a reliable place to pick up the latest music magazines and books from around the world.
“It’s not just a record store – it became a community hub, an institution,” says Liberbaum. “People come to browse, to shop, to chat about music, to chat about life. It’s a wonderful place to sell music to people who are passionate about music. We’ve grown older with them as well – at least those who haven’t moved out of the city.”
Liberbaum is the last full-time staffer aside from Davis. Soundscapes has one other part-time staffer.