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Beat will continue online for Steveston record store

By Don Fennell

Published 10:32 PDT, Mon October 26, 2020

Amid an emerging trend in retail, another brick and mortar business is shutting its doors.

But unlike many shops whose closures have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Beat Merchant Record Shop in Steveston village—set to close March 31, 2021—is shifting its focus to the growing online market. 

“I think to have lasted 15 years with a store is a major achievement, as we have had online shopping and streaming to compete with which is more convenient for a lot of people,” says owner Frankie Neilson. 

So, the Beat Merchant is following suit and will offer only special orders and home delivery after opening its Second Avenue location in 2005. Over those years, the store became known for its warm hospitality, as well as being a great place to browse, shop and talk music.

The shift will be a change, of course, but it enables Neilson and manager David Milner to continue to advance their passions for music—which has played an integral role in both of their lives since childhood.

Growing up in London, England, Neilson has fond memories of the excitement that came with collecting vinyl and awaiting an artist’s newest album release.

He travelled across the east end of the city to buy a copy of the Small Faces’ release of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake in the summer of 1968. The third studio album, and first concept album by the English rock band, it featured the psychedelic sound that defined the time. The LP peaked at No. 1 on the United Kingdom record charts where it remained for six weeks.

The Small Faces are still one of his all-time favourites.

“They were from the next town over in East London and were mods (characterized by young Brits of the ’60s subculture typified by stylish dress and a liking for soul music),” Neilson explains. “I was a little mod myself. Steve Marriott had such a great voice and the band was a big influence on later bands.”

He also lists Free: “a great band live and on record.”

“They had a massive worldwide hit with “All Right Now,” he notes. “A rock band with soul, and who left space in their music, for the music to breathe.”

Neilson also remembers going to the HMV on Oxford Street with his mate Kim for Bad Company’s first album featuring Paul Rodgers, and “running down the stairs with copies in our grubby little hands and in the excitement forgetting to pay for them.”

Today, he has a fondness for the Fleet Foxes, Ray LaMontagne and Tame Impala—artists who continue to advance the sound that broke though in the 60s.

“There is some great music around today, (it’s) just harder to find as there is so much being released,” he says.

Neilson was just 17-years-old when he landed his first job as a recording engineer.

“My first day at the Marquee Studios I started as a tea boy working with Manfred Mann Chapter Three Band,” he recalls. “(But) the best memory of that time was meeting David Bowie with John Gee, the manager of the Marquee Club, who knew Bowie well. We had coffee with him. This was just a few months after “Space Oddity” had hit No. 1 in the UK charts.”

Later, Neilson started his own label, Individual Records. That lasted three years.

“We released six 45s and did well with the mod group from Wales called the The Co-Stars until the distribution company I was using went into liquidation,” he explains. “I couldn’t get the money they owned or the records back. At that moment, I decided to move to Canada.”

For Milner, the opportunity to work alongside Neilson at the Beat Merchant for the past 13 years has been a dream come true.

“I first became involved with the Beat Merchant coming in as a customer,” he says. “One busy Halloween while visiting the store I jumped in and gave Frankie a hand by handing out the candy to all the local kids. And when I was in between work in the arts sector, Frankie offered me a job.”

Music is a powerful force that brings people together, and it has been rewarding meeting customers from around the globe and locally, Milner says.

“It’s always great when you can bring some joy to everyday life for people, like the time finding a copy of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon on vinyl for a newlywed couple so they could listen to their song. The record store is a big part of the local community, and we have had established artists like Harpdog Brown play inside the store and have also provided a stage for local upcoming artists to perform outside in the summer months. We have had many well attended events from an Elvis impersonator a few years ago to award winning author Aaron Chapman promoting his books The Last Gang in Town and Live at the Commodore.”

Milner has been a fan of music since early childhood. After seeing the Beatles movie Help on TV in the 1970s, he remembers going to buy the 45 of the title song at the record counter in a local department store. 

“I studied arts and entertainment management and did a practicum with a local record company distributed by Universal Music,” he explains. “Gaining valuable experience promoting artists to radio across Canada, I branched out and promoted bands like Firebug from Los Angeles on my own.”

Milner says music is a “powerful force” that brings people together. And as with record stores of old, the Beat Merchant was a gathering place. 

“It’s been a pleasure to provide a service that brings joy to everyday life for many visitors to the store,” he adds.

Ever-appreciative of its loyal customers and friends for their ongoing support, the Beat Merchant is holding a closing sale that began earlier in October. They’ll also be holding a special draw at the end of the year to celebrate their time in Steveston Village.

While pleased to see the current ‘vinyl revival’, explaining that the sound is so warm, Neilson says “I think the major companies wanted to establish the CD as the new format and literally withdrew vinyl from the shops overnight. Maybe the CD will be the next retro thing to make a comeback.”

The Beat Merchant will retain its current contact information when it goes fully online next year. The website will still be beatmerchant.com and the phone number 604-204-0044.

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