Thursday, May 15, 2014

Aside; the closing of CD Warehouse East End


Alone with East End; opening shift, June 2011
This post steps outside of Dead Letter Birds’ regular content but definitely belongs here. CD Warehouse was a daily part of my life in Ottawa and a not-so-incidental contributor to a lot of healthy changes I made from 2010 onward. It was during this time I began writing again and getting my first poetry publications. Fittingly, I’ll have a poem published this fall that’s directly inspired by my days there.

It’s difficult to honour something that’s important to you without making yourself a protagonist, but I’m going to try anyway. It’s all too tempting to pretend we choose our discoveries when, in reality, the gateways to greater, personal awareness are chance happenings. For me, getting a part-time gig at CD Warehouse in the summer of 2010 was one of those moments.

East End felt like a city boundary, one last molehill before the flat sprawl of Orleans. Its floors were untreated concrete, decorated at the counter-area with a faded graphic (announcing Andrea Bocelli’s Romanza album, circa 1996) and industrial-style mats that padded uneven surfaces. The roof leaked with any consistent rainfall; a single, imperceptible crack that all the same helped to prescribe the floor-plan. One year the heating didn’t turn on until early December; another time, water bubbled up through a drain and into the Action/Adventure aisle, requiring some inventive signage taped onto chairs. Amounting to more than 'indie' character, these cases served as a reminder that behind our busy St. Laurent Blvd store sat miles upon miles of farmland. We're always just visiting. And when the multiple phone-lines and customer demands descended at once, it was nice to hear nature clear its throat with a challenge beyond the concerns of a beleaguered record industry. Of course numbers were the real threat; the elements just offered a momentary distraction. 

I think back to regular customers and identify them by their orbits. Friendly chaps turned in the light of the storefront‘s used vinyl bins; teens and couples took advantage of the used DVD aisles for a cheap evening in; well-dressed customers streamed in at lunch to perk up their work-days; and the clearance area – a lawless expanse of uncategorized CDs, DVDs and collectibles that were outdated, out-of-print, or both – attracted scroungers of the toughest caliber. (We were often right beside them, digging out a one-dollar copy of R.E.M.'s Monster that someone from Cornwall was crossing their fingers for.) I more or less fell into rhythm with the schedules of some locals: the elderly lady who spared no expense for rare jazz imports, the shift-working zombie who’d shuffle through the Comedy section, leaving a trail of weed smoke in his wake, and don't forget the eccentrics who’d call or stop by up to ten times per day. They'd stop me on the street, in the grocery store: Yes, we’re still holding it for you.

The staff was almost as intense: a core group of managers, part-timers and owners whose commitment helped invigorate my own. Retail’s high turnover rate usually prevents the sort of lasting camaraderie I felt at CD Warehouse but a shared passion was its own reward. Staff parties typically ended with gift-bags of music, ensuring epic (and cut-throat!) trading sprees. And it hardly felt problematic at all that many of us minimum-wage employees were spending thousands of dollars where we worked. If this was a dying culture, we were reveling in it.

I talk about East End in past tense, although it isn’t quite yet. Readers in the National Capital Region still have time to pay their respects before the location transitions into something else. How does any job transform into a fluid, enjoyable part of life? It’s chance, despite what energy or optimism you bring to the table. Somehow the environment, customers and staff shared between those three stores all intermingled to create an aura that continues to age gracefully in my mind. As someone who has also slung records in places such as Sam the Record Man, HMV and Sunrise Records, I can confirm that it’s a rare mix indeed.

CD Warehouse’s East End location will be open until the end of June. The Clyde Avenue and Kanata locations will equally absorb the undying energy of the East End and fight on for eternity.
Update (09/10/14): As of last night, CD Warehouse announced that the Clyde and Kanata locations will close sometime in the spring of 2015. 
Visiting; April 2013

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