When the South Great Georges Street branch of music retailer Waltons closed on Monday 19th, after almost thirty years in business, the move hit some particularly close to home.
“Personally, I feel pretty disappointed” former intern Chris Bauduin, a student from French Guiana living in Ireland, told The College View.
Bauduin spoke fondly of his time at the outlet, describing the staff as “a bunch of really nice people”. Despite having a language barrier, Bauduin relished the opportunity to work in what he described as “a Fender church and a Gibson church”.
“You know, when I had finished cleaning all the guitars I could grab the guitar I wanted to play.”
The shop’s wide variety of instruments allowed the guitar-playing English student to learn songs from music books, as well as dabbling in some piano. Unable to commute to the Waltons outlet in Blanchardstown, Bauduin now finds himself hunting for a job two months before returning to his home in South America.
Cost of business
The Waltons store closed due to rising rent prices in the city centre combined with competition from online music retailers, with managing Director Niall Walton telling The Irish Times on Monday that “the cost of doing business in the city centre was too high”.
Waltons New School of Music continues to operate above the outlet. In contrast to the fortunes of the store, the school had a record number of students this year according to teacher and administrator Dave Mooney.
Mooney said that the closure was primarily due to rent prices and cheaper online alternatives versus a decline in the Irish music industry.
“I don’t think it’s a statement on the state of music or anything like that at all, that hasn’t been an ongoing thing for the last six-to-seven years,” Mooney said.
For some, the closure of Waltons comes as a sign of the times. In a corner on Grafton Street, James, a British busker, takes his steel-plated Harley Benton ResoKing guitar out of a ‘Thomann’ labelled bag as he prepares for his next performance.
“It’s kind of an inevitability in this day and age isn’t it?” James said, citing the ease of online musical instrument shopping.
James praised Waltons as a store catering to beginners, describing the culture in specialist music shops as “massively intimidating”.
“A lot of the time you get parents going in and saying, y’know, their kids asked for a guitar for Christmas, so they (did) a lot of that” James said.
Where Waltons focused on providing customers with a wealth of options, with hundreds of expensive guitars stretching up the outlet’s massive walls, Music Minds on Lower Liffey Street has an immediately intimate quality; just standing at the door, you can see every guitar in the shop.
Manager John Macken described the closure of Waltons as the loss of an institution in Dublin city.
“I bought my first amp there as a teenager, so it’s a shame to see it gone.
“It’s good for us business-wise, y’know, it’s one less music shop in the city centre that we’re competing against, but we’ve always had a great relationship with Waltons” Macken said.
Both to combat rent increases and ‘show-rooming’, the process of trying out a guitar in a store before buying it cheaper online, Macken emphasises attention to detail and the old mantra, ‘quality over quantity’.
Credit: Niall O’Donoghue Interior of music minds
“Our overheads are obviously far lower than theirs were. We’ve a small place packed out with stuff and a small core of staff.” Macken said.
Staff member and musician Cian Whelan expressed similar sentiments, saying: “Waltons were trying to do everything, and it’s very difficult to do everything well and to have the right amount of stock.
“There’s no point in the modern day and age of having a row of 40 Gibsons on a wall when you know you’re only gonna sell one in a blue moon.”
Whilst Music Minds has an online shop, most online purchases are for accessories rather than instruments according to Macken.
Macken is adamant that people need to try instruments out in shops rather than buying blind on the internet, saying “nobody in their right mind buys guitars online”.
“A guitar’s like a pair of shoes: you can advise someone on materials but only you can tell what’s comfortable for you by trying it on. You have to pick up a guitar and play it first, because they’re all individual” Macken said.
Dave Newell, musician and staff member at Musicmaker on Exchequer Street, described the closure of Waltons as bad news, saying that shops like Musicmaker benefit from the competition of other outlets around Dublin.
“The fact that there’s kind-of a little area where there’s a bunch of music stores benefits all of the individual stores. It’s not dissimilar to the likes of Denmark Street in London… a cluster of stores all in the same place.
“It means that people can walk around and look in all of them at once. I think that means there’s a bit of a community between the stores and a bit of a community between the people who frequent the stores.”
However, he emphasised the need for music retail outlets to innovate: “Shops have to move with the times and get better, and you have a choice: you can bury your head in the sand and ignore that there’s a Thomann and all those other (online shops), or you can try and move with them”.
For those directly affected, the closure of Waltons is much more than the loss of a shop.
With ambitions ranging from teaching French to English speakers around the world to remaining in the Irish music industry, Bauduin is adamant about returning to Ireland after completing his finals in France.
“I’d like to work in a music shop or studios or, like, pretty much anything. I’d like to work (in Ireland), enjoy the life for maybe five years and then moving (to) another country. We will see.”