Grigorian, Canada’s last standing classical music store, will shutter its Yorkville location in June. First opened in 1980, Grigorian will continue its online presence where it has successfully sold records for the past 20 years.
John Holland, Grigorian’s gregarious web site manager, and one of the resident musical gurus, says, “while the transition is bittersweet, it is certainly not due to lack of business.”
He cites the problematic cost of doing business in Toronto, the proliferation of streaming, and a shift in focus at record companies as factors in the decision.
“Let's just say that it has become very restrictive and that is a reason why a lot of independent businesses are closing in this city,” Holland volunteered when pressed for details about the Yorkville store’s closure.
Rents have tripled in Yorkville and Grigorian, like other fleeing Yorkville retailers, i.e., David’s Shoes, Over the Rainbow, Pusateri and Chanel, need better cost efficiencies in this changing retail environment.
While streaming has affected sales, Holland points out that a critical factor in Grigorian’s longevity is that classical and opera music lovers prefer and are willing to pay for the whole physical package, not just a cheap download.
“People may be buying less these days, but they do buy, and often using streaming services to preview the version they want of the music. A great triumph for us was that we were one of the top North American sellers for the DG/Decca New Complete Mozart Edition, which is 200 CDs, books, and other materials. We were selling the set at $399.98, while Amazon.ca sells it at $689.99. Hopefully, that will help dispel the myth that Amazon always has the lowest price. In fact, in the last few years, major selling titles for us like, The Sistine Chapel CD Cantate Domino, on Deutsche Grammophon, and the Tony Bennett/Diana Krall CD we’ve sold at $14.98 when they first came out, below what Amazon was selling.”
“Record companies are not musically oriented like they once were. The emphasis is on marketing, not music. Since we announced the store closing, we have received calls from record sales reps, sad that they are losing a key retailer who usually knows more about the products than they do.”
That said, Holland sees a harmonious future for Grigorian.com. Grigorian has always been ahead of the curve. They were the first record store in Canada to sell compact discs, and they’ve been selling online for twenty years.
“While the physical store is still the greater part of the business, we are hoping these in-store customers will follow us online. That said, we have a large group of loyal 'regular' customers online, who shop with us from all across Canada, and around the world.
When Amazon went online, we looked at how they were selling music and thought we could do this better and more competitively. We are usually cheaper or comparable to the big Amazon type sites. But our significant advantage is that we are more niche and knowledgeable. Music lovers will find the same great service and knowledge online that they’ve received from us in store.”
Victor Ghaloosian, who has been with Grigorian since the mid-nineties, and Holland, who started in the London store in 2007, will continue to manage the online store. Grigorian’s unique selling proposition is the musical knowledge these two gentlemen bring to the enterprise.
When I was in the store, a loyal customer and musician Vincent Castaneda unsolicited, volunteered, “One of the great pleasures of visiting Grigorian is that it is a community centre for people who love music and who like to talk about music, as well as enjoy being in a great record store environment.”
To continue the conversation online, Grigorian will incorporate a chat feature enabling customers to talk directly and ask questions, as they do now in the store.
When Harmik Grigorian arrived in Toronto in 1979. The Armenian music lover was dismayed to find that the classical departments at Sam’s and A&A’s were woefully lacking in selection and missing many essential releases from European artists and labels like Naxos, Decca, DGG.
Speculating he wasn’t the only one starving for great classical music and sensing an opportunity, he opened the first Grigorian in Oakville in 1980. Others followed in the early part of the century in Ottawa, London, and Montreal. The Yorkville location in Toronto was opened in 1982 and is the last remaining Grigorian brick and mortar store. The original store in Oakville closed in 2014.
By March 1983, Grigorian had become the leading import store in the country. That’s when they received the first CDs to be imported to Canada. The day after they arrived, CJRT’s Peter Keigh came in and bought one of each CD, to play on his classical radio show. Reportedly, he was the first to play CDs on the air in Canada.
Grigorian also supplied product to the University of Toronto Music Store and, the Canadian Opera Company’s retail shop, (Grigorian never took a profit from the COC sales, donating it back, as his contribution to the arts!)
Like Castaneda, many loyal Grigorian customers will miss the store's physical presence. Holland says judging from the comments he regularly gets from British Asian and European tourists– there are few if any Grigorian-calibre record retailers left, anywhere.