x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pause, play, rewind 30 years

King's Recording, open since the 1980s, attracts film and music lovers alike with its wide selection of original materials.

The salesman and right-hand man Muin Hasan takes a break in restocking merchandise at King's Recording in the Hamdan Centre.
The salesman and right-hand man Muin Hasan takes a break in restocking merchandise at King's Recording in the Hamdan Centre.

ABU DHABI // The customer greets Hamzah Ansari by name.

"So what do you have for me today?" she asks the Iranian owner, her English heavy with French inflections.

"At least seven movies you are going to love," Mr Ansari replies. "One of them is an Italian one with French subtitles."

She leaves with five of his suggestions and two CDs to boot: a selection of old classics by Fairouz and the new album by the British pop phenomenon Adele.

"She has been a customer for only five years. She is a new one," Mr Ansari says.

He says at least 80 per cent of his customers are regulars and have been frequenting his shop, King's Recording, since it opened in the early 1980s. The shop's offerings include music cassettes, CDs, BluRay discs and LPs, and all are originals.

King's Recording is a landmark within the Hamdan Centre, occupying shop number 40 on the first floor of the vibrant shopping centre.

The centre is also an institution. It was one of the first indoor shopping malls to open in the capital in the early 1980s and is a popular destination today, offering leather goods, shoes, sports equipment and tourist knick-knacks, all at bargain prices.

But bargaining is discouraged at King's Recording, where prices are fixed. CDs cost between Dh15 and Dh55, and DVDs cost between Dh45 and Dh75 - handsome prices for a stock of only originals or special editions.

When King's Recording opened its doors in 1983, the shop was not in the movie business. Its only purpose was to sell music.

"You know, at that time we are young, we like music, so why not work in the music business so we can listen to pop and rock all the time?" Mr Ansari practically yells over the Lady Gaga blasting from his shop's sound system.

Back then the shop was smaller and on the ground floor of the Hamdan Centre.

"There were a few other shops selling music and VHS in Hamdan Centre too, but we bought them all and combined them to open this big shop," he says.

Muin Hasan, from India, used to work for the competition at a shop that sold mostly Arabic video cassettes. Before long Mr Hasan joined King's Recording and became Mr Ansari's right-hand salesman. Abdul Rashid, also from India, looks after the left hand.

"When we started we had over 5,000 cassettes, only in English and Arabic," says Mr Hasan. "And in the beginning they were all copies from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia. We had music no one else in the city had and it is still the same now."

Customers are quick to concur. Hatem Masoud says he used to ditch school with his friends to hang out at the store and listen to music.

"It was the only shop we could find the bands we liked, like Nirvana and Metallica and Iron Maiden," says Mr Masoud, 32, an Egyptian. "And even though I can easily download music now if I wanted to, there's nothing like buying an original album."

Mr Hasan's face folds into an expression of disdain when "downloading" is mentioned.

"This is the problem now; everyone wants to download, they don't want to buy original," he says.

But Mr Ansari is unfazed: "Some want to download, but not all. Our customers love browsing in the shop, discovering music and movies they had no idea about.

"And the pleasure from buying the original is different. Even the young people - they like to read the lyrics in the pages of the original CD leaflets and they like to watch the special features in the original DVDs."

The advent of technology has made some aspects of the business obsolete but also introduced new areas, Mr Ansari says.

"Six or seven years ago, a whole year passed and we didn't sell a single VHS tape," he says. "That's when we took them all off the shelves and decided it is only DVDs from now on.

"You can't even find a VHS player if you wanted one these days. I haven't used the one I have at home in 10 years."

But BluRay technology is rising in popularity and creating a customer base that is much larger than that for VHS and DVD combined.

"Plus now we have some LP vinyl records; everyone wants to buy the Michael Jackson one," Mr Ansari says.

The flow of customers into the shop does not cease. All ages, both genders, all nationalities come throughout the day. They listen to music, ask about obscure movie titles and leave with plastic bags full of entertainment.

"There is no other shop with our selection, maybe in the country," Mr Ansari says. "I have customers from Dubai and Sharjah and Ajman come to me and ask me to prepare the titles they want.

"They are loyal, and I am loyal to them."