A G Picks proprietor Michael Zulicki. Image: Patrick O'Brien
We don’t know who came up with the claim that Melbourne has more record stores per-capita than anywhere else in the world, we don't even know how accurate it is to be honest, but there's no doubt that it's still a great city for digging through racks of records.
Recently Melbourne has seen the emergence of several ultra-niche 'micro' record stores – shops that operate at select hours and carry a selection of highly curated, hard-to-find items and often share their spaces with other businesses. As well as Strangeworld, located in the back streets of Fitzroy (behind the Standard Hotel beer garden), two stores that best exemplify the 'micro' store are Lulu's and A G Picks.
Lulu's, located in a small room out the back of Carlton North cafe/bar A Fan's Notes, is operated by Dan Stewart, author of celebrated punk magazine Distort, and Tom, Coco and Mo, the three guys behind the record label Cool Death.
“We thought that between the four of us we could make a store that’s interesting enough for people to come back regularly and find something new on the shelves.” says Lulu's founder Moses. “No weak shit.”
“I mean there’s no shortage of record stores in town. More are popping up every month it seems. It’s sick - but six- months down the track they’re still desperately peddling that third Ultravox LP and the stack of Uriah Heep records that never seem to move; it becomes kind of depressing”
This insistence in providing a focused selection of niche records is an approach that is shared by Richmond micro store A G Picks.
A G Picks. Image: Polly Stanton
A G Picks is the result of a partnership between Patrick O'Brien and Michael Zulicki. Other than both playing in Mad Nanna, Michael is the man behind long-running weirdo record label Alberts Basement and Pat presents O'Tomorrow on 3RRR (and in the past operated legendary record store Sunshine & Grease). “We pretty much just carry whatever we like” says Pat. “There is no real theme to the store. We carry a lot of under appreciated music though. Things that most people ignore. That's our job. To introduce people to what will be their favourite records. Hopefully that's what we do.”
Their shared passion for fringe music means that A G Picks has the most unique collection of records in the city. Where else could you find an ultra-limited free jazz 7” sharing a crate with some reissues of old Thai Luk Thung records? Or an original pressing of Suburban Lawns' wild new-wave sharing a space with the latest offerings from Brisbane experimental label Breakdance The Dawn?
“We wouldn't be doing this if we felt we were doubling up with another store. We're carrying a unique selection that wouldn't be available in Melbourne otherwise.”
A G Picks shares their space with florist Lilac and the Cat and Magic Hour Espresso. Similarly Lulu's shares their space with A Fan's Notes, going as far as curating DJ nights and film screenings in the bar. This symbiotic relationship is core to what helps make these micro record stores possible.
“We have a mutual relationship with A Fans Note’s, where both businesses benefit from the activity of the other," says Moses. “Tamlyn (owner of A Fan's Notes) has been incredibly kind in letting us use the back of his cafe and hopefully we’ve brought in new customers into his business.”
Image: Patrick O'Brien
One thing that the people behind both Lulu's and A G Picks stressed was the ability for a record store to create a community; for it to be more than just a place for you to buy stuff. “It's a place where people meet each other and form bonds based on their experiences, kick back and forget about some of the more horrible aspects of contemporary life.” Pat says about A G Picks. “The feasibility of what we're doing is questionable, but we'll do it as long as we can. As long as people are coming in and we can afford to pay the rent and do what we want to do, and as long as it's enjoyable to some degree, we'll try to keep it going.”
Moses agrees; “Local comparisons [for what we're trying to do] would be Flinders Lane/Burke Street basement era Missing Link, and later on places like Woolly Bully. Those stores were really important to people our age. They were more than just a few rows of records and a t-shirt rack. They became a hangout/meeting spot for people and provided a really great entry point for younger weirdos into the punk scene with their in-stores. I hope that Lulu’s can be a non-intimidating place that people can come and hang out, listen to tunes, drink a few beers and have a yarn with us.”
A G Picks is located at 6 Cremorne Street, Richmond and shares its space with Lilac & The Cat and Magic Hour Espresso. It's open Thursday to Saturday.
Lulu's is located behind A Fan's Notes at 787 Nicholson St, Carlton North. It's open Thursday to Sunday.
Strangeworld is at 11 John St, Fitzroy and is open Thursday to Sunday.
Follow Sam at @sjeckhardt