VOL. 133 | NO. 65 | Friday, March 30, 2018
30 Years of Shangri-La
By Andy Meek
The sign propped up on the porch beside the door announces a “huge sale” and “free show” this Saturday, March 31, at Shangri-La Records – the music shop at 1916 Madison Ave. you might mistake for a house if you were driving by too fast and not paying attention. Inside, the shop is packed with boxes of vinyl and arranged so that you actually have to slow down and thumb through all those sleeves and all that plastic if you want to get any kind of sense of the musical treasure herein.
What that sign announcing the sale and show this weekend omits, though, is a strange and improbable milestone for a business such as this: Shangri-La has managed to hang on and stick around for 30 years now, with this weekend’s events, plus more to come later this year, paying homage to that anniversary.
The past three decades have seen the rise and obsolescence of CDs, MP3s and iPods; radio conglomerates iHeartRadio and Cumulus filing bankruptcy; physical media of all kinds finding themselves relegated to the status of artifact; the shuttering of other record stores, including Memphis’ Spin Street, which closed its doors earlier this year – the list is expansive. And yet Shangri-La – which a 2014 Esquire magazine piece described as “everything you could ask for and more in a record shop” – endures.
Shangri-La Records, at 1916 Madison Ave., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The first in what will be a series of events the record shop is hosting in honor of that milestone will happen this weekend, with a multi-band show at the store as well as an all-day sale. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
Is it a reaction to something, a beneficiary of some kind of resurgent nostalgia to own things again, things that you can actually hold in your hand instead of storing on some far-off computer server? Shangri-La co-owner Jared McStay shrugs off any attempt to explain who wins and loses in this line of work, or why.
“We just … persevered,” he says about the anniversary. “It was hard. I don’t know what we did, necessarily, that these other stores didn’t do. But I will say, we did make a decision maybe about 15 years ago where we thought we were going to go broke if we try to just sell CDs here and go up against Best Buy or Walmart. We just can’t compete with them.
“Where we could compete is on vinyl, and that’s what we focused on. Other than that, I couldn’t really tell you why others folded and we didn’t. I guess it’s just perseverance. And buying a lot of good records.”
Shangri-La co-owner John Miller agrees the store has survived by not trying to be all things to all people. The key: an emphasis on Memphis and regional music, both new and old.
“Where big-box stores generally chase popular titles, Shangri-La made its name supporting local artists and labels, including Shangri-La, Goner, Sugar Ditch, Electraphonic, Misspent and the many other labels run by current or former employees,” Miller says. “The store gets so many visitors from around the globe, and we’ve always been here to help them find the music they grew up listening to as well as the new sounds coming out of Memphis and the Mid-South.”
The endurance of any kind of physical media in the present age is something of a caper. Brick-and-mortar record stores, themselves, indeed are something even rarer than endangered species.
No wonder Shangri-La is celebrating. This Saturday, the store will be open normal hours, and the sale will last all day.
A multi-band show will take place outside, in front of the store.
“We’re kind of celebrating all year,” McStay said. “This is the first big kind of event we’re doing. It’ll be a free show that starts at 2 p.m., a huge sale in the store, and we’ll be having other events this year.
“We’re in the mood to celebrate.”