Last Days of Lawson’s

After trading for 55 years, Lawson’s Record Centre is closing. At 380 Pitt Street is the last remaining of what was once a row of secondhand record stores on this block between Liverpool and Goulburn streets. When I started shopping there the top three on this stretch were Ashwoods, The Pitt, and Lawson’s. At that time there was a vast vacant lot across from the record stores, the whole block between Pitt and George Street empty. The Anthony Horderns department store had stood here until it was demolished in the 1980s. But I paid the vacant lot little attention. The city had many such holes at the time, on pause between demolition and development. Instead my energies were focussed on the record stores, and what I might find within.

I found records inside them, of course, but as much as I enjoyed looking through the racks, I enjoyed being in the stores themselves. They were cluttered, serious places, dense with records and books, with layers of gig posters decorating their walls. Their mood was one of studious attention to the pursuit of treasure, and I joined the searchers with enthusiasm. When I was a teenager books and music were my lifeline. I navigated the city with subcultural intent, frequenting the record book stores, navigating by the cinemas and arcades.

Approaching Lawsons this feeling returns to me, although the rest of the street has changed and is now mostly restaurants. Through the door I can see the long rows of boxes inside, through to the back wall lined with 7″ records. As I turn to go in I note the handwritten sign in the window thanking customers for their support and announcing that the last day is April 27th. Once through the narrow entranceway lined by vinyl records, I see this date is also marked on the calendar affixed to the pinboard behind the counter. There’s a circle around the last Saturday in April and the words “last day of Lawson’s” written below it.

Knowing that this may well be their last visit, the store is busy with people searching through the records and CDs, heads down, flipping through. As I browse ’50s 60s R&B’ a man beside me explains to his son the system of alphabeticising artists under their first names, one of the store’s quirks.

I turn my attention to the walls and their layers of posters. My favourite, which has been on the wall since the first time I came to the store in the 1990s, is the State Rail fare evasion poster that shows a figure being consumed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. “There are harsh penalties for those without a ticket”, ran a line of text at the bottom of the poster. No matter how often the LPs displayed on the rack below it changed, the day-glo scene of prehistoric fare evasion was a constant.

 

Lawson’s too has been a constant, a reminder of an era of the city that now has fewer and fewer traces. Climbing rents have now priced it out of the city, a familiar story for other secondhand book and record dealers such as Goulds, which had to downsize from its iconic Newtown store last year, also due to increases in rent. Another stalwart of the city book and record store circuit, Comic Kingdom, closed in recent years, and the copies of Captain America and Spiderman grow ever-dustier in its unchanging front window.

For many years Lawson’s has been the last store left of its kind in the city, but now its time is coming to a close. A For Lease sign is displayed in the front window beside David Bowie and Prince. But inside, for these final weeks, it has the same atmosphere of studious searching, looking through, hoping for treasure.

***

For a guide to Sydney’s record stores see Diggin’ Sydney map of record stores.


12 Comments on “Last Days of Lawson’s”

  1. jsgaspar says:

    My first visit to Lawsons was in 1974 or perhaps ’73. It was on the other side of the road, closer to Liverpool Street, just after the big Woolworths on the corner. I can’t remember who took me, or why, but it was a revelation.

    I was quite young at the time, 8 or 9, and had no interest in music but was already a committed reader. There were shelves of second hand books, although few were kid-friendly, and piles of comics. These were something new for me. There were Phantoms, some DCs and early Marvel super-heroes but the best were the local Disney reprints. The vivid colours, the Cark Barks artwork and the tie-in with Sunday night TV was alluring and I was immediately hooked. We left Lawsons with a few purchases and I had a newfound love for comics and second hand shops.

    I stopped collecting comics years ago but I still can’t walk past a second hand bookshop without checking it out. Sadly there aren’t many left but that’s been true for several decades.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Me too – I can’t avoid the lure of a secondhand bookstore! Thanks for sharing your Lawson’s memories 🙂

  2. Jim soulios says:

    Wow , another great article Vanessa . Another trip down memory lane for me . Spent many a time (and some money) there browsing , more precisely flipping through the filed vinyl albums during 78 until 81 . Highlight was at times not only finding cheap records which were near new having only been played to record , but also rarities and demo only (with label not for sale to the public haha) . Surprised visiting for the sake of physically reminicing some 20 years later how it had changed to a former shadow of itself . Sad to read of another favourite icon (Gould’s another) going. Thanks again Vanessa.

  3. Simon says:

    In the early to mid 70s, Lawson’s was one of the great shops that a childhood friend and I used to trawl through every couple of weeks: we’d train in from the outer western suburbs, and flick through hundreds of LPs at Lawsons, Ashwoods, The Pitt and another smaller shop that rented a small space opposite in the old Anthony Horderns building. Then it was on to Anthem Records (in Town Hall station – Chris from there now works behind the counter at Redeye Records!), perhaps White Light (downstairs at the MLC Centre) and on to Warren Fahey’s Folkways at Paddington! We’d invariably travel home on the train with an eclectic handful of LPs to further enrich our impressionable teenage minds. I’ll miss Lawsons – any self-respecting modern city needs to respect the need for dedicated second hand shops, where wonderful musical, cinematic and literary treasures waits to be found. Vale, Lawson’s!

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Simon – I love to hear about people’s record shopping circuits – I had my own in the 90s and well remember that feeling of going home on the train poring over what I’d found. It’s certainly the end of an era with Lawson’s going.

  4. John Low says:

    Thank you Vanessa for bringing back some wonderful memories. I spent many enjoyable hours in both Lawson’s and Ashwood’s and took home quite a few vinyl treasures. Even now when I pull them out they tell their stories, the joy of finding them and the wonderful atmosphere you describe so well of the shops themselves. It’s very sad to see the last of them go. Your mention of Comic Kingdom also brought memories back. When my son was a teenager he was an avid comic collector and we used to trawl the comic shops in Sydney together I think I enjoyed it as much as he did. Comic Kingdom was one of them and another in George Street which was accessed via a dark corridor at the end of which you entered ‘The Land Beyond Beyond’ (I think it was called). Sydney has lost a lot by their demise. Buying books and albums on-line is just not the same.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks John – yes The Land Beyond Beyond it was indeed – it was before my time but I’ve heard many an enthusiastic remembrance of it!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article. I’m saddened to see the passing of another icon.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Vanessa, your instagram post on Lawsons prompted me to pick up the copy I had of Ninety 9 I had and read it that weekend. While my record store hopping days were more than a decade earlier than yours it brought back many memories. Anthem at Town Hill and Phantom were the main ones for me and I think there was Utopia under Martin Place. It was at Phantom that I bought the first pressings of Roxanne and Rock Lobster before they were released locally. There was one other big store in the basement at Pitt and Park I think called Soundz that had a fantastic range – although it wasn’t an import store like the others.
    But the most astonishing thing about your book was that you had a friend at Thornleigh (where I grew up). I think that must be the first mention of the suburb in a book that wasn’t a shire history.
    all the best.


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