The Brains behind Polyester Records and The Tramway Hotel, Chris Crouch has taken the theatrics of retail in Paris to the coast of Melbourne
Founder Chris Crouch’s background
Happy Valley was born in November 2013 with over four and a half thousand books and vinyl, stocking one hundred plus gift assortments. Chris Crouch’s wife grew up near a town named Happy Valley in the south of Australia. «A name selected for the store of whose entity is unclear until you step into it. I deal with books but did not want to be acknowledged as a bookstore». Crouch has managed to incorporate the essence of an art gallery to the store, where people are free to investigate the items they find. The vinyl selection was added later due to its demanded return. «It has been three years since we started stocking them».
Owning Polyester Records, Candle Records and The Tramway Hotel, Melbourne’s Chris Crouch, through business ventures, has navigated the commercial world; allowing for a new-found perspective on retail at Happy Valley. Taking from the theatrics of retail in Paris he decided to create this space. «At that stage, I didn’t know whether to open an art gallery, a bookstore or a design store». Due to his parents working in the air force, Chris Crouch adapted an ‘if you can, you will’ work ethic versus growing up with a business background. Having studied radio at university, Crouch made the decision to own his independent record label Candle Records, which he ran for thirteen years post which he bought a record store at the time, Polyester Records.
Crouch’s vision for Happy Valley inception
The shop being Melbourne based, Chris Crouch and his partner at the time, Warwick Lobb had stated that the shop wouldn’t work anywhere else but in Melbourne. Anticipating, his efforts towards the community to have been triggered down through each business opportunity that he welcomed Chris parted ways with Polyester Records in 2010. Crouch purchased The Tramway Hotel, formerly known as The Napier Hotel, in North Fitzroy, alongside his partners, Warwick Lobb and Jess Tregonning. Running the pub for three years, Crouch’s vision for Happy Valley came from his experience within independent retail.
Regarding his decision to launch Happy Valley, it took twelve months to find the one hundred square meter space to create his vision of what Happy Valley would be. The year the store opened; the shop won the Melbourne Design Award. The interior was designed by local architect Harley Vincent. The space was built, in part, by Gordon Johnson, and Huw Smith, from display units, counters and tables which are placed in the center of the store at the entrance. Art prints by Sèverin Millet hang between rising bookshelves containing independent and rare hardbacks covering ten genres. This includes non-fiction, classic novels, humor, art, food, music and graphic novels. Amongst these categories you can find titles by Florence Given, Daniel Clowes, Hetty McKinnon, David Byrne and Hemmingway.
A competitive business
Stocking books and gifts from around the globe, Crouch had limited options to stock locally sourced commodities; as ninety percent of the brands were reluctant to place their products in Happy Valley. «The gift world in Melbourne means you can’t supply an item if another retailer close by stocks it. Foreseeing why I found it difficult to attain familiarity in the early days of launching Happy Valley». His vision of the store has changed since its opening. Becoming selective about his products, Crouch describes his store and its products to be catered around his tastes. «It is a competitive business and I didn’t realize that when I first opened. Fifty percent of the time I deal with artists who have to say no to me». Happy Valley includes the community of Melbourne, to whom the owner supports businesses local to Collingwood.
The sourcing of products at Happy Valley
With eighty percent of the gifts in the store being Melbourne based, this helps gain the support of his community; as he in return chooses to support businesses of the coastal capital. «I’ve lived in the area for twenty years; I know the people who work and live in the neighborhood. I have had three businesses within a kilometer of each other over those years. We release brands, arrange questions and answers with authors and conduct magazine launches in the store. Mystery books approached us to launch their publishing house to which I obliged. Six months later, they ended up being our tenant’s upstairs». «When I started doing books seven years ago, people advised me against it because amazon and kindle were taking precedence». In his outlook to the era, he states, «technology isn’t your faux as a retailer, it kept our business going. I research and order online. As a retailer and business owner, I have been around the block to know, for ordering vinyl’s, overseas purchasing is a route I condone». Chris Crouch sources products in Happy Valley from countries such as Canada, United Kingdom and United States of America.
Covid-19 impact on the publishing industry
During the pandemic the business has been able to travel further through its online presence. Due to the restrictions people were spending time shopping on the internet. «We reached a client base in Melbourne and in the country that didn’t know about us. I had the website up within the first week of launching Happy Valley. For instance I wanted the website to be an extension of the store».
Happy Valley leading presence on social media
Chris Crouch and his staff regularly engage with their customers through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Relating to its visual element, Instagram has the ability to provide people with an instore experience without having to enter Happy Valley. The interest for a sense of interaction between Happy Valley and its customers has been proven through Crouch’s efforts to include the community. When asked what can be expected for Happy Valley in the future, Chris Crouch replies, «I am researching releases and books. It is not a five- or ten- year plan. There are people who have not been to the store and there are people who come in once or twice a week».
294 Smith St, Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia