For the first time in its four-decade history, Schoolkids Records won’t be on Hillsborough Street when the new year begins. Despite a nearly two-year search for a new space on the fabled N.C. State thoroughfare, the store will move across campus to the Mission Valley shopping center at the start of 2014.
“I hate the idea of us leaving Hillsborough Street, and in a way [not leaving] was my priority for the longest time,” says Stephen Judge, who purchased the Hillsborough Street location last April. “But with a lot of the things being built and changes that are happening to the businesses already here, Schoolkids just didn’t fit. Not to mention that I could never find anything here that was affordable.”
When Judge purchased Schoolkids
from store founder Mike Phillips last year, he knew that a move was in his near future: The university owns the property and had long publicized its plans to demolish Sadlack’s Heroes and the neighboring strip mall that contains Schoolkids. Next spring, they’ll begin construction on a 135-room hotel and retail space
, managed by the boutique brand Aloft and scheduled for launch in 2015. The plan is part of the long-term revitalization of the benighted street.
The new Schoolkids, at 2237 Avent Ferry Road
, will be the fifth Raleigh location for the record store, a small chain that once included spots in Cary, Chapel Hill and Athens, Ga. It will occupy one-third of the former Blockbuster Video store in Mission Valley, sharing the space with a Planet Smoothie and eventually a Waffle House. Mission Valley has a long history with music stores, having housed both Crooked Beat and The Record Exchange for many years. Still, Judge does regret the move from the prime collegiate strip. He’s an N.C. State graduate, and he’s been visiting Schoolkids on Hillsborough Street since he was a child.
“I’m certainly nostalgic for the way things used to be on this street. When I walk up and down it, there’s not as many things that interest me as in the past,” he says. “You look at the numbers. You look at the street. No one seems to be bending themselves over backward to keep you on the street because they’re getting bids from a chain who will pay more than we can although we’ve been here for 40 years. You have to say, ‘Well, I guess that time is over.’”
With the departure of Schoolkids, Hillsborough Street will house no stores that deal exclusively in music. Both Nice Price Books and Reader’s Corner sell records, but they primarily stock used inventory. Jeff Murison is the executive director of the Hillsborough Street Community Services Corporation
, a nonprofit funded by the city, N.C. State and landowners to organize events and advocate for businesses on the strip. He says he worked with Judge for more than a year to find Schoolkids a new space on Hillsborough Street, but the amount of reasonably priced retail space on the street is approaching a new low.
“Each business has its own unique needs and what it’s able to afford, and sometimes it’s easier than others to find a good match,” Murison says. “We talked about the future vision for their business—what they want to become and how they see themselves growing and what the requirements were to allow him to do that. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find a location on Hillsborough Street to fit those needs. It’s one of our strongest retailers, and we’d love to have more retail shops.”
At least the new Schoolkids space should offer the opportunity for several upgrades to the store: The current location occupies nearly 1,100 square feet, though one-tenth of it is taken by storage for things Judge simply hasn’t tossed yet and an office he seldom uses. And out front, a thin sliver of a parking lot turns a visit to the store into an anxious jockey for position. The Hillsborough Street location, Judge says, is simply cramped, from the tightly arranged rows of records inside to the diagonal mess of spaces outside.
But the new location sits as an island in a parking lot big enough for the neighboring movie theater and the shops that surround it. And Schoolkids’ chunk of the former Blockbuster Video store measures around 1,600 square feet, an allotment that will at last allow them to be more than a record store. The new floor plan calls for a large counter in the middle of the store. That’s where Judge and his clerks will ring people up and sell them beer from taps behind the counter. Judge nearly attempted this idea when he tried to purchase the closing Schoolkids location in Chapel Hill. He even worked with Sadlack’s to try and coordinate their move into the same or adjacent spaces, so that one Hillsborough Street institution in exile could serve as the de facto pub for another. Given Raleigh’s growing local beer market, Judge thinks the time is right to mix music and drinks.
“You can come up to the counter to buy a record and get a pint, or vice versa,” he says. The store will also include a large listening lounge for customers, where they can hear records before they buy them and drink their purchases, too.
On Hillsborough Street, the stage used for in-store performances by bands is shoved into an alcove that’s difficult to see. In Mission Valley, Judge plans to build a bigger stage at the back of the store. It will face forward, and Judge hopes it will turn in-store sets into big events rather than sporadic sideshows.
At several points, Judge considered moving into proper downtown Raleigh. His neighbors at Sadlack’s, for instance, announced recently that they’d be taking over the former Berkeley Cafe space.
But he’s happy to cling close to campus—in part because of the store’s historic ties to the school and in part because, after a slump, students seem to be buying music again. Ralph Reccie, who directs N.C. State’s real estate department
, is glad that the school's needs for new space won't push the store away completely.
“The goal was to help the companies that are in the block we’re redeveloping find suitable relocation places,” he says. “I’m thrilled that they’ve found a place, and I’m excited that they’re staying in our area.”