Extracts from Graham Jones' 'Last Shop Standing': Week 5

Last Shop Standing lifts the lid on an industry in tatters. Graham Jones has worked at the heart of record retailing since the golden era of the 1980s. He was there during the years of plenty and has witnessed the tragic decline of a business blighted by corruption and corporate greed. Last Shop Standing is a hilarious yet ahrrowing account by a man who has been there and sold that.

Paul once related to me the tale of the worst day in the history of Square Records. A customer had ordered a Doors record, and when he arrived to collect it the album was, unfortunately, out of stock. The customer did not take this news at all well and stormed our shouting that the store was rubbish – w word which, no doubt, influenced his next move.

It was refuse-collection day in Wimborne, and so there was lots of rubbish piled up in black plastic sacks on the streets, Suddenly the man returned, shouting, “Your shop is rubbish!” and at the same time hurling a bin bag full of rubbish through the doorway, all its contents spewing out over the floor. As the staff started clearing up, two more bags were thrown in and, seconds later, another two followed.

Paul felt it wise to lock the door for the sake of the safety of his customers. He then phoned the police who, believing it to be no more than a minor disturbance, turned up 40 minutes later. By the time they arrived the irrationally enraged customer had piled up so many black bin bags against the shop windows and door that it had started to go dark in the store.

Having used up every bag in the road, he started fetching them from surrounding streets, to the point where he eventually managed to totally obscure the daylight in the shop. The customers whom Paul had locked in thought it was very amusing but, after a while, he sneaked them out of the back door. When the police arrived and took away the mad, disgruntled man all of the local onlookers who had gathered to watch events unfold were disappointed – but none of them had intervened.

Paul told me that his only problematic customers were the two types that hum: the first comes in to hum a tune and expects him to recognise it immediately; and the second is his regular customer, who clears out the shop by humming in a stinky sort of way. Most shops seem to have one smelly customer – I often wonder if they are rationed to one per store, as I have never heard of a shop bemoaning two smelly customers.

Square’s whiffy customer, whom they referred to as Mr Smelly, was a huge Showaddywaddy fan. Whenever he came in, the staff would decant themselves into the back room, leaving the slowest at the counter to serve him. One day he asked for ‘A Little Piece Of Soap’, which was the title of the new Showaddywaddy single. The back room staff all burst out laughing for the next two minutes. Mr Smelly was bemused, as were the other customers, but laughter is infectious, and soon the whole shop was rocking to the sound of laughter. Mr Smelly walked out with ‘A Little Bit Of Soap’, but sadly it wasn’t the soap that he really needed!

My own experience of smelly customers occurred whilst working at HMV. A thoroughly pleasant, if somewhat miffy, young man always engaged me in conversation after he had purchased his CDs. One day he informed me that he was planning to go to university, but could not decide where. “How about the University of Bath?” I suggested. The irony was lost on him, as he told me it was too far away.

There'll be more from Graham Jones' 'Last Shop Standing' next week?

'Last Shop Standing', £12.95, is published by Proper Music Publishing Ltd., London