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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

On March 17 Banks Music Shop will cease trading…

According to York Explore Library and Archive, Banks Ltd is thought to be the UK's oldest music shop.

This iconic shop was opened in 1756 by Thomas Haxby on Blake Street, York. It was sold to a hairdresser and cellist, Samuel Knapton. It then passed on to his son Philip and in 1803 it moved to Coney Street. In 1829 the business was bought by William Hardman. Following Hardman's death in 1855 Henry Banks took over the business and moved it to 2 Stonegate, and then to 58 Stonegate in 1904.

I can still remember Janet Banks who took over the shop in 1960. She was quite an eccentric figure and former staff remember working with and serving a ‘cast of Dickensian characters and eccentrics’ in the 1970s and 80s. The mail order department distributed sheet music all over the world and famous composers and prominent organists were among the customers. Her brother Peter, who died in 1977, oversaw the publishing side of the business. Janet died in 1980. In 1985 the business moved to it's final resting place at 18 Lendal.

As I have already hinted, my memories of Banks Ltd go back (quite) a long way. Their system of music stock keeping was unique. The shelves hosted labelled cardboard boxes, so you couldn’t see the sheet music. You would go in to buy, for example, a Grade I Piano Book, open the box and it would be empty. So off to the counter with an “excuse me, do you have any Grade I Piano Books in stock?” They would trot out to the shelf, locate the box, peer inside and “sorry no, would you like us to order one?”

The staff were wonderful, and I remember them with real affection. I am not sure if Ken was a manger, he seemed like one, and he seemed to have been there forever. Sweet man, always friendly whether at work, passing him in the street or even when he retired. Then there was Malcolm. Always smiling, warm, sang in a choir and chatty. But it is Nicholas (Mr Music) I remember best. He didn’t just know a lot about music, he loved it. If you were in a rush when you bumped into Nicholas, you were in trouble. He would insist on telling you about trips to Glyndebourne, Nuremberg and pride of place, Wexford Festival Opera. And then, like a Wagner Ring Cycle, the Nicholas experience would begin.

The MusicRoom brand’s owners, the Hal Leonard Group, blamed ‘challenging market conditions’ for the decision to restructure and end their high street retail presence.

Restructure – ‘to organise a company, business, or a system in a new way to make it operate more effectively.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

Well, there we have it. Herr Marx’s pyramid of capital ownership. Banks Ltd was restructured by MusicRoom, which was restructured by the Hal Leonard Group which will probably be restructured by Amazon which will probably be restructured by God. Watch your back mate.

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