If there are things Joel Shortman misses about renting DVDs to the public, he’s not letting on. For 10 years the self-confessed cinephile ran Small Screen on Rathdowne Street in North Carlton. The tiny, Tardis-like store, with its great collection of foreign and art house movies (and resident schnauzer, Peko) became an institution in the leafy neighbourhood as other inner north DVD rental stores disappeared into oblivion.
But now, North Carlton’s considerable loss is Northcote’s gain. Buffetted by the area’s changing demographic and, more significantly, the decline in demand for the DVD format, Shortman has decamped to High Street, ditched the DVD rental side of the business. Instead, he’s focusing on what was a growing part of Small Screen’s business before he moved north: secondhand vinyl.
Now Shortman’s days of staying back until 9.30pm chasing people up for late DVD returns is, thankfully, a thing of the past. “I don’t miss the late finishes,” he says.
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Shortman started selling vinyl out the back of Small Screen in 2007, “Just movie soundtracks and a bit of jazz and rock.” At around the same time, university students were leaving the area and illegal movie downloading was beginning to boom.
“The writing was on the wall,” he says. “Higher rents meant students were moving out of North Carlton. They were already probably downloading but they were also beginning to train their parents, who were still living in the area, in how to do it.”
But Rathdowne Records, the name Shortman gave the vinyl side of the business, was booming, quickly developing a reputation as one of the best stockists of jazz records in Melbourne. Over the next few years he expanded into funk and hip-hop. In October last year the tipping point occurred: the vinyl was making more money than the DVDs.
Despite this, Shortman says there was a sense the shop was hidden away, accessible only to people in the know. “DJs liked to keep me as their own personal secret, which was flattering.”
And now the hidden gem is well and truly out in the open, with Shortman setting up Rathdowne Records in a former dressmaking shop just over from Northcote Town Hall.
Considering the area’s reputation for hipster inhabitants, he’s found an unexpectedly big geographical gap in the secondhand vinyl market. “I’m the only vinyl store between Collingwood and Separation Street,” he says with a grin.
In contrast to his previous digs, there’s an abundance of space now to display his records (“Peko loves all the room”) and his dressmaker partner Linda Doble has a large working space out the back for her business. There’s even a wall of hand-picked DVDs. They’re for sale, not rent, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll find any Adam Sandler titles among them. “I don’t sell many but I’m not really fussed,” he says.
Musing on the re-emergence of vinyl in an age of digital music, Shortman feels it’s about people’s innate need for “Tangible culture.”
“There has been a bit of a reaction against the iTunes way of collecting music, by which you have 1000 albums but you don’t listen to any in full,” he says.
“If you have a record you searched two months for, then found and brought home and took out of its sleeve, then you do bother to listen to it in full.”
“People either want digital format or they want their own curated collection of music; this is the thing that I want to bring to a concert to get signed. This is the thing that represents me.”
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