Written for Broadsheet
For almost a century Thomas’ Music has attracted Melbourne musicians and music enthusiasts with its broad range of classical music.
Sadly, the rise in digital music sales and online streaming has affected the store’s profits, now forcing its closure.
“We just don’t have enough business to keep it financially viable,” manager Elisabeth Vodicka tells Broadsheet.
The Vodickas are one of only two families to own the store. They purchased it in the 1980s and Elisabeth took over in the late 1990s.
“We have a lot of loyal customers, but we need to sell more than we do to keep ourselves going,” she says. “We also have a very big store with a large stock holding which we have to carry all the time … at the end of the day you’ve got to make money.”
Thomas’ originally opened as a piano, organ, phonograph and musical warehouse on the corner of Exhibition and Bourke Streets in July 1922. In 1972 the store moved to the upper plaza of the Southern Cross Hotel.
The music store relocated to its current site in 1994 – the first State Savings Bank of Victoria, built in 1902. Its original Australian Art-Deco plaster ceiling has been restored and remains a feature of the store.
Thomas’ specialises in opera, ballet and musicals on CD and DVD. It’s also been home to art house and foreign films, jazz and world music.
“Because we’re a niche store and there’s no one else like us in Australia, we get a lot of interesting people coming through our doors,” Vodicka says.
Past customers include Barry Humphries and actor Pierce Brosnan. Another highlight for Vodicka was a particular visit from regular customer and previous Premier of Victoria, Joan Kirner.
“There used to be a lot of men that worked at Thomas’ and when I took over we had predominantly women,” Vodicka says. “[Kirner] walked in one day, she stood at the door and she screamed, ‘There’s been a revolution!’ because there were all women behind the counter for once.”
For Vodicka, life beyond the music store means more time to focus on her architectural career. “Most of us have something to go on with,” she says.
As for Thomas’, Vodicka says there are plans to continue operating as an online store.
“The people that are technically savvy, they’ll all be fine. The people that I sort of feel for are the older clients who just don’t use the internet and like to ring us up and ask us for recommendations.
“They’ve all been buying up big because they won’t have anywhere to go.”
Thomas’ Music is offering 25 per cent off everything until its official closure on March 16.