To the strains of "Land of Hope and Glory", the original HMV store reopened its doors yesterday morning after a hiatus of 13 years and fears that one of the most famous names in the British music industry was finished.
"Nipper is finally home," said the sticker on the shop window, in reference to the HMV mascot, the famous white terrier depicted gazing into an Edison Bell cylinder phonograph. In spite of digital downloads, music piracy and a sluggish economy, there is, it seems, some life in the old dog yet.
HMV fell into administration in January but in April it was rescued by the restructuring company Hilco. The salvage of the old flagship store – closed in 2000 and, until recently, a branch of sports chain Footlocker – is a symbolic moment.
The sound of Sir Edward Elgar was significant, too, for it was he who opened the store at 363 Oxford Street in 1921. At the same address, The Beatles cut the 1962 demo that got them their EMI deal, and Blur performed live on the roof in 1995.
Saturday shoppers saw a brand new fascia spelling out "His Master's Voice" in neon-pink signage recalling the days when Cliff Richard or Debbie Reynolds might turn up for signings and create pandemonium.
Ulsterman Paul McGowan, chief executive of Hilco, was present to dispense a meagre handful of free vouchers to waiting customers, of which there were barely half a dozen at 8.30am. One, 63-year-old Alan Harrington from Cricklewood in London, appeared to be the chain's biggest fan: not only was he first to enter the revived store, he was also clutching a framed tribute to his having made the final purchase when the shop shut 13 years earlier. "HMV is the greatest store in the world and, thank God, it has come home! I've been coming here since 1956," he piped up loyally.
Upstairs in a storeroom filled with boxes of Nipper T-shirts and mugs, Mr McGowan explained his strategy. "The whole thing is about taking the business back to the music, back to the heritage," he said. "It's absolutely vital to have a presence on Oxford Street. This is the heart of the West End and entertainment."
He wants 363 Oxford Street to be a showcase for the music industry. The second floor is being refurbished with a stage and sound system to host live performances, book signings and other events. He is trying to bring other sectors on board, notably gaming. The downside is that the larger HMV store on Oxford Street will close.
Despite talk of its demise, HMV still has 150 stores in the UK, 109 in Canada and four in Ireland. Mr McGowan's outlook is international "because no one country is big enough and the industry needs catalogue players". HMV is the only remaining catalogue player, he said, adding pointedly that "there's no vinyl in Tesco".
The music retailer's profits collapsed as buyers switched to iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify. HMV's website, currently inactive, will be relaunched next month, along with an app that it hopes will challenge Apple's service.
Mr McGowan is remarkably upbeat. The restructuring expert is sometimes known as "retail's undertaker" but HMV's Oxford Street staff, in their Nipper T-shirts, were yesterday celebrating a resurrection.