Montreal musical institution celebrates milestone this month
MONTREAL – Cheap Thrill’s location on Metcalfe Street is an oddity in downtown Montreal now dominated by modern chain stores.
The rickety stairs leading to the store, a flashback to a bygone architectural past.
And inside the store, you could be forgiven for thinking that they boarded a time machine.
“It’s amazing. I think it’s very lucky of us, we’ve just stood the test of time and we’re the last in town,” said owner Gary Worsley, who purchased the store to its original owner four years ago, after working there for two decades.
There was a time, 30 years ago, when people couldn’t give away their record collection because CDs were all the rage.
But Cheap Thrills has weathered the storm and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. The original store on Bishop Street closed in the 1990s.
“We kept the vinyl, but it was difficult to get new ones,” says Morsley. “People didn’t come with them used, they came with tons of used CDs.”
But when consumers ditched CDs and turned to digital streaming, something unusual happened.
A few customers started asking for vinyl records that were still being produced on a smaller scale in Europe.
“He made a comeback here, I would say ten years ago. And it’s really strong right now, ”observes Morsley, who was just a teenager when record companies started phasing out vinyl records.
At first, most stores and record companies thought it was a fad.
But it turns out a new generation wanted to find out what it was like to own a physical copy of recorded music – conditioned the way their parents bought music.
Fernando Diaz, 36, grew up with CDs, but now buys vinyls.
“The sound, the way you experience music, is different,” says Dias while holding a copy of Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, a classic record released 48 years ago.
Depending on the record industry, the average vinyl record buyer is now 25 to 34 years old.
This has led to the opening of many new millennial oriented stores.
But Cheap Thrills has always stayed close to its 1960s hipster roots as it enters its sixth decade in business.
It still stocks second-hand books from beat writers, as well as musical classics from a bygone era, but is adapting to its new clientele.
“We have to store Taylor Swift and Lorde and Billie Eilish because these records sell and they help sell other records,” says Worsley.
And if the past is any indication, the vinyl record obituary has yet to be written at Cheap Thrills.
An earlier version of this article said the record store was in Mansfield, not Metcalfe.