Compact Music marks 40 years 
as an indie record store

Compact-Music

Ian (right) and James Boyd, in their Glebe store, 
Compact Music, recently celebrated 40 years in business. Photo: Ian Boyd

by Marie Briscoe

This year marks an important milestone for Ian and James Boyd who operate the two Compact Music stores on Bank Street as they celebrate 40 years as independent record retailers.

Ian Boyd manages the store in the Glebe and James Boyd oversees operations at the Compact Music store in Centretown.

The store’s anniversary coincidentally fell on the same date as Record Store Day, April 21, 2018. Ian said, “Record Store Day 2018 was a big day in the store and brought necessary attention to independent businesses across North America while meeting music lover’s expectations.”

The two brothers have owned and operated several record stores in Ottawa in the past 40 years. They witnessed first-hand the decline of vinyl and cassettes and the rise of digital music, and even closed down their stores at one point around 1988. They eventually changed their minds and a few years later launched Compact Music all over again.

The Compact Music stores in their current locations have been in business since 1996 and are among the oldest independent record retail outlets in Canada.

Over the years, the brothers have watched competing businesses struggle and ultimately close. James points to two key pitfalls, “I’d say high rents and moving away from core products into DVD movies and pop culture items most likely led to the failure of other stores.”

Ian says they have been successful in a business where the vast majority of others have failed because “We have stuck to our philosophy of appealing to the 20 per cent of the market that values listening to music at home. We only sell one product: music of all genres in both new and used formats. It’s that focus on a core product that I think has made the difference.”

Ottawa writer and Compact Music customer Charles de Lint also commented on the longevity of the stores. “I worked in a record store when I was younger and among my customers were two teenagers who delighted me with their openness to every sort of music. Today these same teens have grown into men who have been selling music in their own stores for some 40 years and I am now their customer. The Boyd brothers are still open to every sort of music and have been successfully making their own customers happy. I can attest to that since I remain one of them.”

Compact Music is popular with musicians as well who drop in on a regular basis like Ottawa singer Lynn Miles. She says, “Above all else Ian is a music lover. He’s a rare and special creature, a person who has been able to survive the tectonic plate shift of the record biz. After 40 years, he still stands behind the till every day with a great passion and enthusiasm for his chosen career.”

Ian Boyd has also been active in the community as a member of the Glebe BIA. From 2005 to 2007 he joined forces with other Glebe Community Association and BIA members to hold the Underground Sound series of concerts. The initial goal was to raise money to remove hydro poles and bury the overhead wires on Bank Street. The City of Ottawa decided, based on a cost-benefit analysis, that there would be no financial return for the city from burial of the wires. The $49,000 in funds from the concerts were then diverted to other projects to beautify Bank Street, such as street murals on frequently tagged streets. As one of the co-chairs of this initiative, Ian has been responsible for disbursement of the funds on behalf of Underground Sound.

Compact Music’s flagship Glebe store is a classic example of an old-school indie record store with bins of vinyl LPs along the aisles, rock posters on the walls, t-shirts hanging from the ceiling and racks of new-release CDs. Take a moment to step inside the next time you are on Bank Street and if you can’t find what you are looking for, chat with the friendly staff and maybe they can find it for you!

For further information, contact Ian Boyd at compact@sympatico.ca or James Boyd at  compactdowntown@gmail.com.

Marie Briscoe is a longtime Glebe resident and graduate of Carleton University. She is retired from the public service.

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