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High fidelity

Commitment to family, music, community keeps alumnus spinning

by Heather Hughes, BA'05

The weight of responsibility has never been lost on Mark Furukawa, BA’90 (English).

As a recent university graduate, Furukawa didn’t have the money to seize an opportunity to open a Hamilton, Ont., location of the famed record store Dr. Disc. So, he turned to his parents for financial support. “They were happy to see me happy,” he said. “They are very selfless people.”

The amount Furukawa required was almost exactly the amount his parents had saved in the bank. The couple were interred during the Second World War in the Japanese internment camps in British Columbia. As part of the government redress, his parents were given $21,000 each. Furukawa needed a $40,000 investment.

“With a great deal of gratitude and even more of an impetus to succeed, I used the investment for the shop,” he said. “I consider myself very lucky. It’s different when you borrow from the bank – when it is ‘blood money’ from the Second World War, you have a lot more desire and a can’t fail mentality to keep going.”

For the last quarter century, Furukawa has survived – and thrived – in an ever-changing industry by staying true to his love of music and his business roots in Hamilton.

Furukawa opened Dr. Disc in 1991 in a section of downtown that had a strong patronage of university and college students. When many popular music stores took their spot in bustling malls, Furukawa took a chance on a storefront location near the corner of John Street North and York Boulevard/Wilson Street.

The Hamilton store was a franchise of the original Dr. Disc in London, Ont., where Furukawa worked during his undergraduate degree at Western. At that time, the young DJ was looking for a place to grow his collection. He was instantly captured by the “largerthan- life” personality of owner Syd Atlin, who was energized by the young people – many of them Western students – he employed.

As a self-described “Bart Simpson” of education, by taking the long road to completion, Furukawa enjoyed spending his days at Dr. Disc and learning the business. “Back then, you had to find the places that had the best music. As a student with a limited budget, I had to find the best store with the best selection. If I could work there, it was a bonus because I could get a discount.”

Building on his experience as a DJ at his high school dances, Furukawa worked the turntables at The Spoke and Rim Tavern and downtown clubs, and was an on-air host at CHRW Radio, later taking a spin as the assistant music director for the radio station.

The lessons he learned in the classrooms of English, Music, Film Studies and Art History, he said, directly apply to his business practices today and fostered a commitment to lifelong learning.

In spite of the struggling local economy, Dr. Disc’s cash register rang in more than $10,000 on its opening day. When Furukawa saw the community open up its wallets to support his vision, he knew “we are here to stay.”

After some lean years due to the rise of digital music downloads, Furukawa noticed the industry was starting to shift. A return to vinyl, for both nostalgia and a desire for analog sound, was breathing new life into a struggling industry.

“People thought that convenience was the only way people consume music,” he said. “What they missed out on is people like to collect things that have a history to them and a preciousness to them that digital formats can’t afford. Each record in my collection has a personal resonance for me. I can remember where I bought it, where I played it and who I listened to it with.”

The demographics of those buying record players had also changed and crosses the generational spectrum. Vinyl records bring back the social aspect of listening to music, Furukawa continued. The image of a person wearing headphones and listening to a private playlist doesn’t allow for the public enjoyment of music.

One day, he decided to clear out the clutter of concert T-shirts and memorabilia and go back to his roots, providing more room in his shop for selling new and used records, as well as providing space and visibility for new and upcoming local artists. The re-launch of the store signified another shift in the business, one that dovetailed a change happening in the City of Hamilton. The former Steeltown was moving out of the shadow of Toronto and recommitting itself to supporting local people and businesses.

“We are a conduit between local music and the listeners,” Furukawa said. From promoting local concerts, to setting up a stage in the parking lot adjacent to the store for performances during the Supercrawl festival, Furukawa takes a grassroots approach to running his business and is quick to partner with those who share his philosophy, including throwing on his DJ headphones to run the turntable at a local restaurant.

From helping you to discover new musical talents to letting you know where to get a good cup of coffee, “Dr. Disc is a place where you can experience all things Hamilton,” he said.

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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