Spotify was a big threat. But Rob's Records is still selling vinyl after 45 years

As you walk down Upper Parliament Street - one of the busiest roads in Nottingham city centre - don't blink, or you'll miss Rob's Records. Hidden in Hurts Yard, an almost secret narrow passage tucked between shops and bars off the main road, you'll find one of Nottinghamshire's most unique record stores.

Many first-time visitors may find themselves doing a double-take upon finding the shop. But for founder and owner Rob Smith, being off the beaten track hasn't done any harm to business as he approaches 45 years of running the shop.

The Nottingham-born-and-bred music enthusiast has been selling records since he left school in 1968, originally working at the Co-operative before joining the record shop on Herts Yard in 1979 that would later become Rob's Records. After spending almost two years posting vinyl orders for the then owners, Rob was offered the lease for the store at the end of 1980, and the rest is history.

Forty-five years later, Rob's Records continues to draw in new customers, intrigued by the shop's chock-a-block, ramshackle nature. Even the windows are filled to the brim with an eclectic mix of new and retro vinyl and CDs.

From Northern Soul to New Wave, Rob believes his fully-stocked, eclectic range of records is just one of the reasons the shop has kept going for 40 years.

"We’ve always had new stock, and I think that’s been the big thing here," he said. "I do think having so many records helps, but we’ve just gone a bit over the top these days. I buy things in bulk, I get cheap deals, and we’re getting quite a lot of free records as well."

"The problem is, you’ve got to put all that stuff somewhere," Rob adds, as he laughs.

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The record maestro says he's always "created a friendly atmosphere" within the shop, where visitors can come and chat about music, rather than being pressured into buying anything - another factor he attributes to the store's longevity. During that time, Rob says a lot has been put into maintaining the store.

"Business has been very good and consistent over the years, but I have put a lot of time and money into the shop because it needs freshening up a lot. There's a lot of records here you can’t really sell. That’s the trouble.

"Obviously, during the coronavirus pandemic, we had to close the shop. We got grants from the government which kept us going. To be honest, I think we would have struggled otherwise, but we got through it."

Rob, having spent his career selling LPs, is an advocate of physically accessing music through vinyl, over digital and online streaming. He says he believes that physical records offer something that streaming and CDs can't.

"I think it’s cliché to say, but people like the wholesome nature of records," Rob said. "I think it’s a bit like a toy really. Teenagers and young people obviously aren’t into toys, but they’re into gadgets, and I think it’s a bit like that really. I think it’s having something to hold and to mess around with."

Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of record players, particularly with young people - something Rob has noticed first-hand in the store. According to the Entertainment and Retail Association, 2023 was the 16th year of growth in a row for vinyl sales in the UK, with the number of independent record shops at an all-time high.

At Rob's Records, however, vinyl never went out of fashion.

"In the early 90s, CDs came into fashion, and we started selling them because we had to, to keep going, but we've never stopped selling vinyl.

"At one point, continuing to sell the vinyls was a tricky thing to do. It looked like nobody was going to buy them, but we stuck with it, and thankfully there were still dedicated people who never stopped buying them.

"A lot of people sold their record collections, and thought CDs were going to forever take over, but we still didn’t stop selling vinyl."

As he approaches his 45th anniversary with the shop, Rob, 71, shows no signs of slowing down.

"I’m not young obviously, and I’m well past the retiring age, but even though this takes all my time, and it stretches me somewhat, I’ve still got the energy, and I’m still enthusiastic.

"I still love buying and selling records, so, I’ll keep going as long as I can."

As vinyl's popularity continues to rise, Rob seems to have no plans of retiring. The shop's quirky, expansive and eclectic mix of vinyl and CD looks to continue to invite visitors in, just as it has for the past 45 years. Well, just as long as they can find it.