Mark turns the tables...Ian Soutar talks to the man running one of Sheffield’s last surviving independent record stores which has now opened in new premises

Mark Richardson.  LP Shop
Mark Richardson. LP Shop

“I like to think people can’t be bothered to download things any more and now they want something they can hold,” says the man who has been in the business for 17 years.

There is plenty for people to get their hands on inside the little shop in the midst of Sheffield Hallam University campus. Racks of LPs line the wall – the A-Z Rock section, which seems all embracing from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa, then Reggae/Soul/ Funk and on the opposite wall is the Dance section with racks for House/Hip-Hop/Break and Techno. In the centre of the room are boxes of 7” and 12” singles and there is also a selection of CDs.

Since relocating from his previous premises at the rear of the Howard Hotel nearby, Richardson has introduced a vintage and retro clothing side to the business. “One of the problems was that guys would come in with their girlfriends who would start getting impatient and they would have to move on,” he says.” Now the women can go upstairs and find something they like looking at.”

This is part of his survival instinct. “Three or four years ago I counted 10 specialist record dealers and now I reckon it’s down to two or three,” he says.

He thinks establishing a rapport with customers has been important. “You can’t afford to be rude and you can’t sit on a pedestal, you need to come out from your side of the counter and ask them what they like and advise them and always speak on a level. That’s always kept us in good stead.”

He points to his assistant. “Adam here is a 20-year-old with a knowledge of people twice his age. You can’t just make assumptions about young people, we get plenty of young kids coming in and looking for things like The Kinks.

“Most of our business is done between mid-September and May but once the students have gone it’s quiet. Then you need to be selling online so you have to be buying a lot of stuff before that.

“Nowadays people mostly come to us with records and we sell some online.”

In fact it was a lucrative order from someone in Russia which helped to finance the move to the new shop.

He has not always been online sales savvy. “I was a blithering idiot at the start and refused to have anything to do with the web and eBay,” he recalls. “By 1998 I knew I was being left behind and I had to get in there. You learn by your mistakes.”

He opened his first shop in 1994. “I was without work at that time and I saw a sign in the window saying Unit for Let in the Cambridge Street arcade. I had my own personal collection but I needed to go round flea markets and houses and acquired stuff quickly in order for us to open for business.”

His own taste in music takes in a range of rock and pop, particularly soul, punk, reggae and ska. “I suppose my real passion is northern electronic music, the stuff that came out of Sheffield in the dark days of the early Eighties,” he says.

But acquiring records is strictly business. “There are things all the time I would like to keep but you have to be strict and honest with yourself,” he says.

And what is his best bit of business? “It was when I was in Division Street,” he recalls.” A man came in – he was from Doncaster – with a box of 45s and he was very abrupt. ‘Right’, he said, ‘I want 20 quid’. I said, ‘Well I had better look through them first.’ When I thumbed through them and almost got to the end of the box I saw this Apples and Oranges Pink Floyd demo pressing and I knew straight away that was a real find. So I said, ‘OK, here’s 20 quid’.

“I then rang a loyal customer who also happened to be from Doncaster and told him. He said, ‘You’d better not be messing me around because I’m going to get a taxi and come straight over’, took one look, gave me £700 in cash and turned round and went back. That came just after someone had cleared out my Punk section for £350, so that was a good day.

“When I started in 1994 I never thought I would still be doing it when I was nearly 50. I thought I’d find a proper job. I did have a bit of a lull about six or seven years ago and lost my hunger for the business. Then when I moved into Howard Street I got that back and now we’re in the new shop I feel more passionate than ever.”