Meet the Joomun family: the owners of Armstrong Audio, the Walthamstow-based vintage audio repair shop that operates on the principle “it’s better to repair than replace”.
Kindness is a quality that we value very highly at Riley Studio. To kick off 2022, we’re profiling a series of creative individuals and small businesses who share this spirit and embody it in their everyday work.
With the theme of repair fresh in our minds from Collection 07, we’re celebrating those who breathe new life into old objects, spreading kindness as they go.
We begin with Armstrong Audio, the specialist audio repair shop owned and operated by the Joomun family: T, Shalma, their son Shamil, and Raffi the dog.
When you step inside Armstrong Audio you’re greeted by racks of rare and sought-after audio equipment. “Everything you see here belongs to someone”, says Shamil, as he shows us around. “Everything has its own story.”Armstrong Audio opened at its current location on Blackhorse Lane in Walthamstow in the 1980s. Back then Blackhorse Lane was mainly populated by industrial units and warehouses. Today you can find independent coffee shops, craft breweries and even an artisan denim manufacturer - all telltale signs of the latest wave of gentrification that has washed over E17.
Against this backdrop of change Armstrong Audio has remained a constant, adapting to the demands of a developing area and a changing audio industry. They have carved out a well-deserved reputation among lovers of vintage audio equipment. A few hours on T’s workbench and your malfunctioning amplified or troublesome turntable will be restored back to its former glory. His healing powers can extend life and even resurrect the dead.
Five years ago, the family business was given a boost when T and Shalma's son, Shamil, left his job in the City to join his parents. A plan to remodel the shop and add a cafe was quickly sketched out, preparing Armstrong Audio for its next chapter. Now the business is booming and Shamil is busily launching the shop’s sister cafe, The Willow Tree.
We caught up with the Joomun family over a cup of tea on a very cold winter morning to talk about the art of repair, the importance of storytelling in business, and what the future holds for Armstrong Audio.
Thanks for inviting us to the shop. Can you tell us the brief history of how Armstrong Audio came to be here?
Shamil: My dad started repairing here in the 1980s. Then the business was based on the model that it’s cheaper to repair something than it is to buy it brand new. But coming into the 2000s manufacturing got a lot cheaper and manufacturers stopped providing parts. You can’t effectively repair something when people can buy the latest model for much cheaper.
Disposable culture is a big issue for anyone working in fashion also. How did you counter this trend?
Shamil: What we worked out was that people get emotionally attached to audio equipment - they’re in love with their equipment! It might have been given to them by their father or have other strong memories attached to it. Now we don’t repair something because it’s cheaper, we repair it because it’s got a story attached to it. Then, because there’s that attachment we can charge enough for our repair work to run as a business. I always say to people, “we charge enough so we can be here tomorrow”.
How did changing the shop and adding a cafe boost the business?
Shamil: We moved things around and made the workshop more open. If you show people this space they become part of the story. If the customer gets to see and talk to the engineers then you’re not just giving them that repaired item, you’re giving them a story they can share with other people.
And now you’re busier than ever?
Shamil: Before we remodelled it was just my dad as an engineer, now we have three engineers and we’ve had to bring on more because demand is really high. Even during the lockdowns demand went up for us. There were loads of people clearing out their lofts and spaces at home. You saw those inquiries coming in each week, people finding stuff they didn't know they had and wanting it repaired, but also wanting to go back to a more tactile experience when playing their music.
Is audio repair becoming a lost skill? How did you find those new engineers?
T: Our engineers are normally older. We’re looking for younger people. I even approached the local college and said: “look, you need to start teaching electrical engineering”. The next electrical engineers in twenty years will be repairing electric cars.
Armstrong Audio is proudly a family business. What satisfaction does that give you?
Shalma: To work in a family business, I think, is the most precious thing. I used to work for a holiday company, in an office. Yes, it was nice, but this is more. It’s for yourself and you get back whatever you put into it. I’m dealing with customers every day. To hear their feedback when they say how wonderful we are when we’ve repaired something special for them means so much for us.
As well as that family connection, it feels like this area of Walthamstow has a special community spirit too. Is that right?
Shamil: Everyone talks to each other. Our customers want to be part of a community, so we intentionally sell things from local artists in the shop. They want to have that provenance, to know they’re investing in real people.
Finally, what’s lies ahead for Armstrong Audio?
Shalma: T has turned 75 but he doesn’t want to retire. He says to me: “what am I going to do at home with all this knowledge? I’m just going to sit at home not using my brain? I want to keep going as long as I can.”
Special thanks to Emma Beale for making this interview happen and to the whole Armstrong Audio family.
If you’re London based and have an old amplifier, record player or other audio equipment sitting in your attic, now’s the time to dust it off and give Armstrong Audio a call.
Follow Armstrong Audio on Instagram
Photography by Léa Campbell
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