An area of faded character and atmosphere, Withington still contains much to be appreciated and enjoyed. It’s not as fashionable as nearby Didsbury, but despite the empty retail units anyone who has ventured to Wilmslow Road to sample Fuel Café’s infamous food and musical menus or Victoria pub’s multi-generational welcoming will know about its charms.

Now there is a newcomer on the scene. Next to the post office on Egerton Crescent and on the former site of Deco Records is Wilderness Record Store. Now Then took time to contact one of the team behind the operation, Hannah Tinker.

At a time when streaming and Spotify seem to be so strong in the market place, why take over a physical property with all its overheads?

If only I had a pound for each time we’re asked this. Primarily, Wilderness Record Store was built upon the idea of being a community hub, something to rejuvenate the area of Withington; that’s why we’re a cafe, bar, event space and have hours to facilitate all (9am to 9pm).

In that mindset, we wanted to make it a space that people visit and engage with: they chat to the staff, flick through the racks and feel at ease. Music is that common interest – we get everyone from the local residents who didn’t know vinyl was still in production, students seeking out that hidden gem in the second-hand section for their DIY nights, through to our youngest regular, Ollie – an eleven-year-old just starting his collection.

Nowadays, everything has to be immediate and accessible – hence why Spotify is taking over – but nothing quite beats owning a tangible form of music, as represented by the recent revival. Yes, they take up space and on average cost more than your monthly streaming membership but, in a day and age where we all breeze through life without actually taking notice of our surroundings, records give you that break in the momentum. With our ethos being that we intend to be a receptive, familiar space; vinyl matches that – they’re a talking point that also gives you room to breathe.

Can you provide some background as to how you came to choose this venue?

Withington, in particular, was selected because the directors of the store know the area well and want to see it not be pushed back and abandoned due to the success of the likes of nearby Didsbury and Chorlton. Just down from Burton Road, up the road from ‘student central’, aka Fallowfield, and a 20-minute tram/bus/cycle from the city centre, it’s somewhere that’s a hive of activity with plenty of local residents and a thriving community spirit.

The shop itself has been a record store for more than twenty years, managed by multiple different owners. We regularly have customers mentioning stories about the previous occupiers and the times they visited the record store in previous years. Therefore it’s shrouded in history and personality. It’s a building that represents the brand ideology of Wilderness Record Store – to not be a stilted, indulgent vinyl store, but welcoming and keenly appreciative of all tastes.

You seem to have broadened the buying experience by having teas, coffees and alcohol available. Have you had any feedback on that approach?

The feedback that we’ve received has been outstanding and ever-so appreciated. Customers generally comment that it makes sense to offer something else alongside the records; that they’d rather buy a coffee from an independent like ourselves and other businesses in the area, than a faceless conglomerate (a high-street chain coffee shop recently opened on the main Withington high street). There’s such an admirable sense of community respect in the area, the residents support the high street and local businesses as if they are their own. Our reception to Withington has been such a humbling one.

 

The gigs I’ve been to have had people standing outside. Who chooses the line-ups?

As the Marketing and Events Coordinator for the store, I oversee all that side of the business and manage the general bookings, as well as the more prominent ones, but the Wilderness Record Store team is a cohesive one. Each member of staff is given the freedom to put on their own events at the store – and many have done. We also work with external bookers too and even local residents who have an idea that would work. With our recent extension of the space, there’s plenty more to come.

We’ve had a record/discussion club – Hit The Groove – organised in partnership with a local resident that will now be quarterly event and our team member, Pops, hosts our Sundays At Six series that sees a vinyl DJ visit us for a few hours on a Sunday evening to play a set that eases you into the week ahead. There’s also been plenty of gigs, as well as meet and greets; we’ve had the likes of the icon Ned Doheny, American band Hop Along, Dave Haslam and more come in to meet their fan base – most commenting that there’s such a friendly atmosphere to the store and our team.

In December, we temporarily took over the old NatWest bank in Withington for three consecutive weekends of live music and DJs. It’s been really successful amongst the local residents.

You have already had one recent revamp. With a relatively small footprint, is there a limit on how far you can develop this area?

In November, we extended the store to give us more space. We’re now a 40-person capacity venue, giving us the opportunity to put on more notable events at a higher capacity. There’s not yet been any talk on expanding further. The rest of the building is owned by private landlords and they’re all student homes/flats. The bit we extended into was actually a student’s bedroom that we bought from the landlord and duly waited until the student’s tenancy ended. I guess we can just wait and see what the future holds.

How have other shops taken to your presence?

The community spirit of Withington thrives through the support network of the local businesses. There’s a Withington group that meets regularly featuring local residents, council members, and business owners, called We Are Withington, that works to boost the area. Wilderness Record Store is a proud part of this group.

We’ve been involved in hosting the successful series of Withington By Night events that sees businesses open late, with live music and DJs taking to different venues on the high street. The recent first event was an undoubted success that saw a thirty percent increase in footfall compared to a normal Friday evening and more than 1,000 people take to the high street. We work closely with other local businesses who, like us, are keen to boost the area – it’s a very united network.

What are your plans for 2020?

Now that we’ve expanded the store and have that venue space, we’re looking to expand on the presence we’ve made this year. Sundays At Six will continue, as well as plenty more gigs and featured events. As we opened in April 2019, it will also be our first time doing Independent Venue Week – for 2020 we have London-based upcoming band Famous performing a gig in the store on 30 January. They’re known for having supported and performed with the likes of Jockstrap, Black Midi, and Black CountryNew Road.

We’re also looking forward to Record Store Day on the 18th April. There are only bigger, better and more substantial things to come from us – watch this space.

wildernessrecords.co.uk

Ged Camera