You’d have to be a little crazy to open a record store in 2010. And to open that store on Friday the 13th? That’s like saying, “I hate this stuff called money.”
The store in question is Hammer City Records, which opened two years ago on (Friday) August 13th at 228 James Street North. The place is a dream for anyone who likes their record stores independent, small and punk.
Craig Caron is an owner of Hammer City Records and was involved in its opening. He said that he missed the kind of record stores that he used to spend all his time in when he was a kid, and so he decided to open his own.
“I remember going upstairs to Star Records, on King and James,” said Caron. “You’d open that door and just smell pot. And I though, ‘What the hell is up there?’ This is the early ‘80s, and I thought, ‘Punks – they’re mean, they’re crazy, they’re going to kill us. We have to go up there.’”
I’ll admit that I felt the same way when I first walked up to Hammer City Records. Standing out in front was a classic punk: black leather, chains and a Mohawk. The thought that he’d kill me didn’t cross my mind, but the thought that he might be crazy did. He turned out to be funny and nice.
My first experience with Hammer City Records was definitely less intense than Caron’s first time facing the killer punks of Star Records, but I could relate. It’s like Hammer City Records is the modern reincarnation of Star Records, bringing back the feeling of old record stores.
“I’d be in Star Records, and the guy from Teenage Head would walk in,” said Caron. Teenage Head are legendary local heroes, and in the 1980s they were among the most popular punk bands from Canada. “It was the greatest thing ever. We wanted a place like that, where young bands could come and hang out.”
I had my own mini version of the freak-out that Caron described when he saw Teenage Head as the singer of TV Freaks walked in to Hammer City Records. I’m only a recent fan of the band, but I think their shit-hot punk rock is just about the coolest thing ever.
It might seem like Hammer City Records is built on pure nostalgia, an isolated little basement where rockers can escape the changing outside world, but Caren said that he hopes the store can be part of something new – part of changing the music scene to be more like how it was in the past.
“Once some of the old record stores closed, pieces of the community closed,” said Caren. “I know after Reigning Sound closed, a lot of bands just stopped playing. Or if they were playing, you never heard that they were doing shows.”
For those us who grew up going to HMV, this might be hard to imagine, but record stores used to be a places that did so much more than sell music. They were places where people formed bands, artists and musicians collaborated, and concerts were promoted.
The decline of the music industry is often blamed on us, the people who download music, but maybe it has more to do with independent record stores being replaced by big commercial chains that people would never think about hanging out in.
When people say something is “community-based,” it seems like it’s mostly bullshit. “Community” is so overused that it’s really just a word that people use to describe something that might impact someone somewhere when they are too lazy to consider who those people are specifically. Hammer City Records has given an actual meaning to community.
“One of the biggest highlights for me since we had the store is that we released a local music compilation LP,” said Caren. “It’s all Hamilton bands. A girl that hangs out in the shop painted the front and back covers. For me, that’s the dream come true. It’s this community that creates this amazing product.”
That’s what a community is – real people coming together and interacting in a significant way.
Nolan Matthews, Senior ANDY Editor