While North America and Europe are awash with reports of a resurgence in the vinyl format (and even of the cassette), its well acknowledged that the days of "crate-digging" of going through rack after rack and literally crate after crate of records to find an obscure gem or the latest release are essentially over.
Here in Jamaica, and particularly in Kingston, the extinction event of the classic record store has been brutal. Dodd's Record Plaza, Rock n' Groove and the patently upscale Mobile Music (which formerly provided this writer with quality jazz and worldbeat titles) are all history.
Like their US counterparts (Sam Goody's Tower Records, J & R Music), once influential music retailers in Jamaica have been swept away in the perfect storm of first file-sharing then legitimate music streaming and - at the street level - bootleg CDs. There are already teens and other young people who have no idea what a physical record looks like, much less sounds like.
All of which makes the relatively modest sign Derrick Harriott's One Stop Records & Video, a fixture from the upper floor at the Twin Gates Plaza, all the more compelling. With a longevity to match its founder, (Harriott recently turned 79), the store has been drawing reggae and other record connoisseurs to Kingston's busy midtown (once regarded as more solidly "uptown") since 1973.
The "One-Stop Records" brand actually dates back to 1966 in downtown Kingston. Harriott, already a chart-topper both as a solo act ("What Can I Do?") and as founding member of the Jiving Juniors ("Lollipop Girl") opened his first store at 125 King Street, near Beeston Street, in premises that were formerly owned by Neville Foo-Loy, a school friend from Excelsior High. The store was run by Herman Chin Loy( who would later become a competitor through the also legendary Aquarius Records store and studio)
Two years later, Harriott moved over to 86 King Street which in those days was a hotbed of musical and cultural activity. The Wailers store was at 127 King Street, Lee 'Scratch' Perry(The Upsetters, Bob Marley) had set up at nearby Charles Street, and another legend, the late Clancy Eccles (son Clancy Jr is a regular on the live circuit) was over at 122 Orange Street. Essentially in the nexus of musical production of the time, Harriott got the pick of all the latest releases from Kingston's top producers and artists."I knew all of them, and they used to come straight to me," he recalls.
He was also a producer himself, and boasts of being the first such to work with future "Crown Prince of Reggae" the late Dennis Brown. Brown, who Harriott describes as "a likkle yout" on their initial meeting cut his first side "Lips of Wine (Obsession)" at the Waterhouse studios of dubmaster King Tubby.
The two locations - King Street and Twin Gates - co-existed for only a short period as burglaries forced the closure of the former. Though these days, he's not at the store anywhere near as often as in the halcyon days of the 80s and 90s, when physical records still held sway, Harriott says he stays abreast of trends and happenings in the industry, whether they involve devices or personalities.
But the apparent cloud over the record business is hard to peek through, as resilient as he has been. Sales are falling continually, he says, but foreign visitors to the city still seek out his singular store like devotees to some cult seeking a shrine; the procession is just not nearly as long as it once was.
"The situation is very bad now, it's like you holding onto a string," said Harriott
Royalties from overseas deals (mostly UK) on his own substantial catalogue and what he describes as goodwill from creditors are essentially keeping the One Stop sign up at this point, but, with his own venerable biological clock ticking down, and not a great deal of interest from others in the business, then even the upturn in vinyl may prove a cooling wind that blows in too late into this commercial desert.
People, he says, still appreciate the music that blares from the sores sound system at various times, but its really down to the numbers. A bootleg typically goes for less than half of what a legit CD may cost. As for DVDs, which supplanted the classic VCR tapes, Harriott attracts some attention for copies of the plays "Unda Mi Nose" and others which he produced, but there again, bootlegging pretty much wipes out his margins.
While its understandable that consumers will certainly go for the lower-priced, more convenient option, the demise of Harriott's One Stop would be a huge dent in the city's cultural cachet. More than just a physical landmark, it is - like its founder - a mental and emotional link to a different time. A time when Jamaican music was more of a vocation than an industry, and when bona fide "musicheads" could while away hours among their favourite titles and even engage in conversation with a legend, like Derrick Harrott.
If ever a business place deserved consideration as a National Heritage site, then this one is it.