Un-Plugd

Toby Kaar performs in Plugd - Pic by Barry Walsh

Many of you will have heard/read by now that the independent record store Plugd Records in Cork is closing down.  As Jim and Albert of Plugd said themselves:

After 8 years here it was a difficult decision to make, but it has become increasingly obvious over the last while that things are not working out in our current situation. We really have gone to the wall and we cant see things improving.

The reasons are straight forward enough – business is down, like most others at the moment – and overheads are staying up. Simple as that. Besides the current economic climate the plight of record shops has been well documented. Sadly, there have been a few in Cork that have closed before us, and there are examples in any city you could mention.

When I found out last night, from my shocked friend Kim and shortly afterwards from the lads themselves, I couldn’t actually believe what I was hearing. It feels like so long ago that we heard that Road Records was closing down, when it felt like the entire country was stifling under the grip of the recession and that it threatened to choke the music scene into submission. As plans got underway for a fundraiser for Road, which thankfully led to the shop staying open (and it continues, renewed, to remain open to this day, thankfully),  those of us from/living in Cork turned our thoughts to Plugd, wondering if it too would have to close.  Soon, our fears were abated, and after receiving a kick to our asses we set about making sure we continued support the store, confident that it would remain open.

But last night, we got the news that none of us wanted to hear.  That Jim and Albert, the mainstays of Plugd (Jim having taken over the spot that was once home to Comet Records, and opening his own record store while only in his mid-twenties, and Albert the Charleville-via-Limerick rocker who relocated to Cork a few years ago and put his own stamp firmly on the shop, as well as bringing bands to the city and always being up for a chinwag) had decided to call it a day, to close the doors at 4A Washington St and on eight years that shaped the music scene in Cork.

Plugd's customers were all ages...

I hoped it would never happen. We all hoped it would never happen. In a silly, maybe childish way, I always assumed that Plugd would just ‘be there’.  I still saw myself going to Plugd many decades from now, spotting Jim smoking a fag outside the shop or organising his prized vinyl section inside; Albert bantering with a few customers or telling people about a new band he’d booked to play in town. Maybe I just assumed too that they’d discovered the secret to eternal youth in there, and that they’d never age: that Plugd would remain this little hub of activity forever. But nothing lasts forever, and if this last year has shown us anything in Ireland, it’s that sad fact.

Businesses need money, custom and goodwill to keep going, but it’s the money that’s the most important of these elements. Plugd has its custom, its regulars, the customers that call in several times a week; it has its monthly and weekly customers; people like myself who live in different cities now but always call in when we are home, for a natter and a browse. We all spend varying amounts, but we all know that when we go into Plugd we’ll find two things waiting for us: good music and good people.

Plugd has been open for eight years and during that time it has become the epicentre of Cork’s music community. Whether you are, as the lads themselves say, a rocker or a raver, a metaller or a dancehead, you’ll find something in there. Some customers head straight for the vinyl shelves at the back, flick through, bring a pile to the listening deck and then consult Jim for his opinion on new releases. Others will ask Albert about what gigs are coming up and what’s the best Circle album to get. Some will hang around near the CDs, see what’s new, nervously bring one or two CDs to the counter and wonder if they’ve made a good choice. A positive word from one of the lads will make their day.

Saturdays are the big days in Plugd, when you head in just to ‘see who’s around’, bump into people that you haven’t seen in a while, jostle for space and bring in coffees from Café Gusto next door. I missed Plugd so much when I moved away from Cork, almost five years ago. I never felt like I had enough money to spend in there and I was never one of the big spenders, and now I certainly wish I had been. There are guys and girls who spend hundreds of euro in there each week, not because they have to but because they want to, because they need to, because what is a week without new music?

Then there are the various promoters, venues, musicians, artists and writers who have been supported by Plugd in various ways throughout the years. Whether it be plugging their gigs, selling their CDs or tickets or hanging their posters on the wall of the shop, Plugd has been there to help them. If you want to find out about a gig, you go there to check out the gig list hanging by the till. If you want to sell a few copies of your EP, you ask the lads to give a home on the shelves. If you want to sell your zine, they’ll find a place for it. People have even used the shop as a messaging service or lost and found at times. For such a relatively small place, there is always room for everyone in Plugd – even live acts and DJs.

Pic by Barry Walsh

And so back to the money. For all the custom in the world that Plugd has, there are always going to be overheads and the challenge is to make enough money to meet them, and to make ends meet. There is no point living on the breadline or worrying about bills each month, even if your shop is providing a badly-needed resource. That’s the sad truth, and perhaps it’s better that the decision was made now before things got too bad for Plugd.

Plugd has also, of course, had to deal with the fact that less people are buying music now. Downloading is not going to go away – it’s only going to get bigger, and record stores have to deal with that. Just as rents are not going to go down, neither is the amount of people downloading music for free or otherwise.  There is nothing like buying an actual record or CD, reading the inlay, wondering about the lyrics, checking out who played drums on track 2 or produced the bonus track. But there’s nothing either like having instantly accessible music on an iPod or any MP3 player, and the challenge is to balance the two. There seems to have been somewhat of a resurgence in people buying vinyl in the past year, but that alone will not keep a shop open.  Some people don’t care about owning records or CDs, but other people are utterly passionate about these things, and it is these people who shop regularly at record stores. Can we keep shops open? We can do our bit, we can shop and buy and make an effort not to buy too much online, but we can’t control the price of rent or the costs of running a business. But our custom is what keeps the stores existing.

Personally I don’t think the solution is to go around hating those who don’t buy records – I think it’s partly in creating a new model of record store that serves more than just one purpose. In an ideal world Plugd would be a record store, a café, a gig venue, an all-in-one place where people can go, meet, chat, listen – and more importantly, spend. Is that pie in the sky? Who knows. I believe it’s possible.

A Cork City without Plugd is a very, very different Cork City.  It’s a city lacking an anchor for all of its musical pursuits. It’s a city missing a hub, a meeting place, a home and a haven to old and young, rockers and ravers. It’s a city missing a bit of its heart.

Things will move on, and hopefully in 2010 we’ll see a Plugd v2.0, a revived shop that offers us all that we’re used to and more. In the meantime, let’s celebrate everything that Plugd’s done for people over the last eight years, celebrate the good times and go in and thank the lads for all that they (and past employees) have done over the years.

See you before Christmas lads, and thank you.

Video by John Callaghan.
What do you think of Plugd closing? What are your favourite moments in the shop?

I’ll keep you updated on upcoming events at Plugd over the next few weeks.

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11 thoughts on “Un-Plugd

  1. Was going to do a post over on our blog but now I don’t think there’s a need – you’ve completely hit the nail on the head. Great post.

    It’s a sad day and what’s worse is the guilt you might feel for not buying there more, the ‘why did I pick up that album somewhere else when Jim and Albert would have ordered it in’ vibe.

    You’re also right when you say that looknig for blame is pointless – the musci biz has changed so much in the last decade or so, it’s in a state of flux. I just hope that the other side sees a hub like plugd.

  2. Great post. Came home today to a Facebook full of updates about the awful news.

    Absolutely devastated. Cork has lost a hell of alot more than a record store. I just hope there can be a Plugd v2.0.

    I’ll miss the regular almost-getting-killed crossing Washington Street to get there that little bit faster. 😦

  3. “I’ll miss the regular almost-getting-killed crossing Washington Street to get there that little bit faster”

    This brings back memories. Cork is a poorer place for having lost Plugd.

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