The Bop Shop - Shetland's Independent Record Store
by Alex Garrick-Wright -
Independent record shops are an endangered species in the UK. Despite the recent renaissance of vinyl records, rural areas have been hard hit — there are few places lucky enough to still have a proper record shop.
As with many things, Shetland is one of those lucky places. Since 2017, The Bop Shop has been Shetland’s mecca for music fans, with monthly openings and a unique not-for-profit business model.
For quite a while, it didn’t seem that way. The last record shop in Shetland, Clive’s Records, closed its doors in 2011. As any true music fan knows, the internet can’t replace the smell of vinyl, the sound of the records being riffled through, or the chatter of the record store regulars.
In 2017, a small band of local music-lovers turned it around. DJs and musicians Jamie Hatch, Thomas Jones, and Lyall Halcrow took on the lease of the Bop Shop — a small retail unit just off Lerwick’s historic Commercial St which had formerly been the headquarters of the Shetland Jazz Club.
“What we originally were thinking was [to] have it as a creative space,” Lyall said, “where people could come and use it as a studio, or just however they wanted to use it. And then we thought: ‘It’s kind of weird that in Shetland there’s no second-hand record shops, and let’s have a go at opening one of those…’”
They sourced records, merchandise from local bands, decorated the walls with artwork from talented Shetland artists, and threw the doors open on an icy December morning, just a few days before Christmas. The place was filled with excited music fans drinking tea and coffee, browsing (and, importantly, buying) the stock, while tired shoppers lounged on the couch, playing videogames. It was an electric experience, and one which completely changed what the Bop Shop was.
“The date before Christmas was sort of a trial-run,” Jamie said, “to see how it would be up here, and it was absolutely amazing! We decided we wanted to do that again, so I think it’s become less of a creative endeavour and more of a shop.
“I think the shop’s taken on a life of its own, to what we originally wanted to do here… I think when we think of this building now, we really think of it as the record shop that the public see once a month.”
“The opening day, just the general response we had from people coming in,” Lyall said, “and genuinely excited about having a space where you could come and browse records. Because, I suppose for any music fan who’s into vinyl, it is really important to have access to a quality shop.
“Just… really to see the excitement on people’s faces. And when we opened the next time, to see that similar response again- and again and again. People still coming in, being shocked and just being really appreciative that there’s a place you can come record shopping in Shetland.”
The shop is one-of-a-kind. Entirely non-profit, it only opens on the first Saturday of each month, with occasional evening openings mid-week that feature special guest sets by visiting artists. It’s an approach that’s preserved some of the shop’s novelty, and turned each opening into a significant event in the music calendar.
The rest of the time, the shop operates as a practise space for musicians, comedians and filmmakers, while Jamie, Thomas and Lyall sort out the next month’s stock. All the proceeds from the day’s sales go back into the Bop Shop to cover operating costs.
“I think it’s the advantage of just having it open once a month,” Lyall said, “is it does give us time to replenish the stock and we have time to really curate the stock coming in so it is exciting each month… If we were open every day it would be a different story. Or even once a week!”
A lot of work goes into knowing the market for records, and knowing the customers. Hip-hop and metal are the two most popular genres, but the 2,000-strong collection of records covers everything from spoken word comedy, to novelty Christmas singles, with an impressive array of rare records prominently displayed at the back for the more discerning collector.
“We kind of know what’s popular up here,” Jamie said, “so when we bring in records ourselves we try to keep it along those lines- what people are asking for, what people have been buying.”
“I think just really good quality records sell, of any genre,” Lyall added. “The good quality albums we’ve had go just about instantly. And we’ve had people waiting outside when we’re opening to come and get fresh records.”
You might be forgiven for thinking that a record shop in Shetland might have ‘island prices’ a cut above those on the mainland, but you would be wrong. Lyall, Jamie and Thomas use the online record site Discogs.com to price each record accurately and fairly according to pressing and condition, so the price will never be above the market average (and, as they operate as a non-profit, there’s no need to hike the prices above that).
“On Discogs you can search what’s on the marketplace at the moment,” Lyall explained, “and various gradings of them and how much they cost, and you can look at the history of the record, how much it’s sold for. It’s quite a good way to get a good grasp of what a record’s worth rather than reading record-seller guides that was kind of the mainstay up until 10 years ago, which was very ranged [in terms of prices].
“It definitely gives us a good, competitive edge, price-wise. The records are always priced very fairly here.”
The Bop Shop has quickly proved itself to be what music fans had been crying out for; with its low prices, varied stock and ardent following, it seems set to remain that way for a long time.