CHAPEL HILL -- Independent music lovers, say goodbye to one of your most beloved music stores. Schoolkids Records on Franklin Street has closed. The Chapel Hill store that has been around since the '70s -- with sister stores in other independent-music-loving places like Athens, Ga., and Morgantown, W.Va. -- shut its doors Saturday.No more hearing the worn, wooden floor creak under footsteps. No more squeezing past other customers down the narrow aisles looking for CDs and vinyl records. No more watching music videos there, or listening to samples at the listening stations."Trends have changed to where many, many, many college students are more likely to download than to buy the actual hard goods," said Mike Phillips, who owned this location along with the Raleigh store. "We just saw a hard decline in foot traffic on Franklin Street for buying CDs. It's just got to the point where it's not worth doing for us anymore."He opened the Chapel Hill Schoolkids in 1975, one year after he opened the Raleigh location. He decided to close Chapel Hill's last year, right after traditionally strong Christmas sales nosedived. "We survived three decades on college kids being our bread and butter," he said. "And of course, for a place in Chapel Hill, where we lost that base, then we're in trouble."The lease on 144 E. Franklin St. was up. Phillips was renting the space from the university, and the store just wasn't selling enough to support itself, he said. The items that weren't sold in Chapel Hill have been moved to the Raleigh store.When the Raleigh Hillsborough Street location's lease is up, he said that one will move to a new spot in Raleigh -- somewhere bigger and less expensive to rent.Although Schoolkids has seen a surge in vinyl record sales, Phillips said his business has been hurt by record labels charging too much for CDs."The price of a compact disc is probably twice as expensive as it should be," he said.Industrywide, one-third of music sales are now estimated to come from downloads, according to Forrester.com. Forrester Research is "an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice to global leaders in business and technology."
It survived till now
Just last week Dylan Field was in the Chapel Hill Schoolkids rummaging through vinyls.The 30-year-old resident of Chapel Hill said his latest record purchases were Radiohead, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead and Boards of Canada."I like coming in here because they have an excellent selection of stuff that you just can't find in mall stores, Best Buy," Field said. "And also because of their vinyl. They have a great vinyl selection, and it's really hard to find stores that actually carry records, which, personally, I think just sound a little bit better -- a little fuller, a little richer."He prefers buying vinyl to downloading music. His friends do both, he said. They download a few songs off an album first, and if they like them, then they'll go into a store and buy the record or CD.Phillips said another advantage to independent music stores is the ability for people to browse for hours. The store was set up with several listening stations, which were very linger-friendly."People just like to come in and just look at covers, and read about the artists," he said. "They'll come in and check out who wrote this, who wrote that."Kristen Jarman, a UNC sophomore who had worked at Schoolkids since September of last year, said she would be sad to see it go, partly for the music and partly for the people. She liked the relaxed atmosphere and the everyday interactions that come from working in an independent music store.She'll also miss "hearing all the new music.""I love listening to music, but sometimes it's hard to find new bands -- new exciting bands," she said. "I really wanted to work here to learn more about everything that goes behind the scenes in the music industry.""People like to talk about what they're buying. It's a really cool way to actually talk to people -- which is not something you get online -- and to really get a feel for what's going on," she said. "[The closing] is sad to me because it has been a Chapel Hill institution for so long."
In its heyday
Phillips said he had owned eight Schoolkids Records stores at one time: the Chapel Hill one, the one on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, two in North Raleigh, one in Cary, one in Durham, one in Greensboro and one in Boone.And at one point, there were as many as 20 Schoolkids Records in college towns up and down the East Coast, Phillips said -- he and some of his friends started the chain, with the first one opening in Athens in 1972.But many of them have since closed."The Chapel Hill store has always been a very cool store. It's been probably my favorite for a long time," Phillips said. "In its heyday it sold tons and tons and tons of music."CD Alley is the last-standing independent music store in Chapel Hill."It's kind of frightening the way things get changed," said CD Alley owner Ryan Richardson. "I feel like we've just got a good, loyal customer base. We just cater more to collectors than your casual music fans, and those people are still collecting CDs.""A lot of those people have iPods, too, but they still like to collect," he added. "Hopefully, those people will still be around."Richardson, who took over the store from Sean McCrossin two years ago, said he doesn't anticipate closing his store any time soon. He thinks CD Alley has targeted a niche well, because not only college students in town enjoy music and the arts."I do hate to see Schoolkids close, because I remember a time when we had four record stores here when I was in school -- and that was 10 years ago," he said. "The rents on Franklin Street are ridiculously high; I know that can't have helped down the street. There are a lot more factors than just downloading music that went into [the closing]."He said decreased retail sales in general probably also contributed."I just hope we can keep making it work, because I can't imagine Chapel Hill without record stores. That'd be a really strange thing," said Richardson, who also plays drums and bass in the band Kingsbury Manx. "It's still a really great place to learn about music and to network, for musicians and for people who are fans. We'll definitely be missing something with no record stores."
Independent music stores are known for their customer service."We've always had very, very good people work for us who know music. You can't beat that," Phillips said. "If there's a band you like, there may be three or four other bands that sound like that band. And they will be the people to tell you, 'Hey, if you like that band, you'll like this.' "The argument could also be made that music listeners can get this kind of advice online, too, though it's not usually face-to-face interaction. "There are people who love music, who know everything about everything, and still enjoy it very much. And those are the people we hire," Phillips continued. "There are people who, literally, thrive off music. Their iPods are full of 5 million songs."Jarman worked at and buys her music from independent stores because of the service, and because of face-to-face interaction."I can get better opinions here about my music than anywhere else," she said. "People at the stores really know what they're talking about."Now, with Chapel Hill's Schoolkids closing, Jarman will have to find another job.And if Field wants to stay local, he'll have to rely on CD Alley for his records. Otherwise, he'll have to go to the Raleigh Schoolkids or stock up on vinyl while visiting family in Philadelphia.Or worse. He'll have to start downloading, too.