Pavane Pour Un Dealer Défunt Letters, part 2
I live in Xanadu, and Barry Willis was almost right on the money about his "mythical" high-end stereo emporium. Even in its first incarnation that establishment had two types of customers: Those who bought at no other place and those who wouldn't buy dogfood from them. The word is arrogance. Xanadu is a nouveau riche city that, to a great extent, has been affected by Circuit City---I can get it cheaper somewhere else. In the present economic situation even Xanadu is suffering---something the economic pundits of the area haven't seen in the previous national recessions; the emporium became grandiose at the wrong time. The high-end store where I bought my first quality equipment, which was there seemingly forever, recently closed its doors. A couple of upstarts who lasted a couple of years, with very good help and advice, also have closed their doors. High-end audio, although not the highest-end, can be had in our town discounted. Most people will not pay extra for extra service when a similar product can be had for less money. Let's face it: As the article stated, expensive goods compete with other expensive goods for one's disposable income, and a Lexus is more recognizable in the driveway than a Goldmund is in the den.
In the end, their bank auction was the most fun I'd had in years. It was like going into a pawn shop and knowing that just about everything you ever wanted was there for a song. The Sovereigns stood guard, the Goldmund turntable was separated from its power supply. For weeks afterward, "lucky" bidders advertised in the local want ads for equalizers for their Thiel 3.5s. Even owners of competing high-end stores were there. The piece I wanted came up for bid early and was hammered-down for me at less than half of retail. Some stayed until way after midnight for the furniture that stocked all of those little rooms where the Spicas and Thiels and the like were displayed.
It may be hell for someone to do something he loves for someone he loathes, but all I saw were salesmen when I went in to shop. My new preamp really did sound better than what it replaced, but it may have just been the fact that it was acquired at a bargain price---perhaps that's why high end fails to thrive in Xanadu.
---Daniel Kingloff, Xanadu
This store was doomed to fail
I was a customer of the "Xanadu Emporium of Audio & Video Wonders." For what it's worth (it has nothing to do with my comments), I was also a Senior Vice President of "The Bank of Xanadu," and was very involved in the buyout by "Wachovia." I would like to make a couple of comments about your very interesting and, for the most part, accurate article.
A) This store was doomed to fail before it ever opened its doors. I have been involved in high-end audio for about 17 years, 15 of which have been while living in Xanadu. In those 15 years, I have seen the shift of the high-end business from one store to another over seven times...all because none could make it. None of these was 25% of what "the Emporium" was. The reality is, this town will not support a full-scale high-end store. Every single acquaintance I met who was involved with high-end audio said the same thing when the opening of the store was known: "I hope it works, but I give it two years max!" The high end in Xanadu is now distributed over two or three small operations with very limited product lines, and a large and very successful chain (which also has a limited high-end product set). Within the last six months or so, two other high-end stores bit the dust, one of which had been around quite a while.
B) At the opening of the store, there was one very large system comprising Duntech, Krell Reference, Krell, Wadia, etc., with a list price of just under $110,000, if memory serves me correctly. Since (as Mr. Willis pointed out) there was no room treatment (although I wish my living room looked that nice), the sound was absolutely terrible. Bass was heavy, muddy, etc. Why would anyone be impressed with the high end if that's what a $110,000 system sounded like?
C) "Ira Jackson" was the only employee of the store (while he was there and after he left) who ever had the foggiest idea about the high end. There were a lot of really nice, hard-working, helpful people, but none knew anything about high-end audio. Ira not only knew (or could convince people he knew), but was really enthusiastic about audio...he was fun to be around. When he left, it only accelerated the inevitable (see A).
D) The Bank of Xanadu (or its new name after the buyout) had nothing to do with closing the doors of the store. Not any more than a nurse who, at the request of family, removes life-giving equipment from a terminally ill patient. This does not come from a sour-grapes bank employee. I left the bank after the takeover because I totally disagreed with the management style.
---Chuck Gerlach, Xanadu
When Barry sent me the manuscript, I was unaware of the true identity of the Xanadu store. I did feel very strongly that the power of his writing mandated publication, if not for any other reason than its demonstration of how people with the loftiest of motivations can totally destroy that which they value most highly. The fictional approach seemed justified by the fact that neither Barry nor I viewed the article's value as a piece of investigative reporting into the demise of a specific store. Instead, we felt the wider implications of the story for the high-end industry as a whole to be worth communicating; revealing the store's identity was simply not relevant.---JA