When Brian Shaw tries to remember how old Nice Price Books on Raleigh's Hillsborough Street is, he uses his age as a measuring stick.
"I think it's 1991," he says, staring at the cars passing by in a parking lot as he does the quick calculation. "I'm 30, and it's been there as long as I can remember, at least since I was 8."
And now, along with his middle school friend and Nice Price coworker, Enoch Marchant, Shaw will buy the shop at week's end, with hopes of expanding its inventory. Come December, when another Hillsborough Street landmark, Schoolkids Records, relocates to the other side of campus, Nice Price will be the only store on N.C. State's prime collegiate drag that sells new music. After years of daydreaming and months of negotiations, the pair wants to revitalize the space.
"I first thought about buying Nice Price in 2003. I'd been working there for about 10 days," says Marchant, laughing. He's worked there in fits and starts for the last decade, but he's been sitting behind the stacks of books and records on the counter for four steady years now. "It became a thing we talked about that we might do until it became a thing where we had to do this."
In the past five years, both Durham and Carrboro have opened new music stores—Bull City Records and All Day Records, respectively—that have not only bolstered the retailers already there but also become vital parts of the music communities in those towns and the Triangle at large. In Raleigh, the record store scene has been relatively stagnant for the last several years, with exceptions: Former Schoolkids employee Stephen Judge purchased the store from founder Mike Phillips last April, and a few used-vinyl shops popped up in art spaces and back alleys.
But during the next several months, a bustle of sells and relocations, openings and rebrandings will scramble the once-stable picture of Raleigh record stores. Shaw and Marchant plan not only to increase the store's stock of music but also to turn the room into an off-hours show or rehearsal space and bar. In late December, Judge will move Schoolkids across N.C. State's campus to a former video rental space in the Mission Valley Shopping Center. It's been in various locations along Hillsborough Street for all of its 39 years. In the new spot, Judge will install a bar and a prominent stage, allowing him to do more with a much bigger space than the tight quarters on Hillsborough Street.
And just more than two miles away, in the ground floor of a gargantuan condominium building, downtown Raleigh will finally have a new record store, albeit from an unlikely suspect. Sorry State Records, a punk and hardcore label and music distributor based in Carrboro, will open its first-ever storefront this weekend.
"The space is definitely more expensive than I'd planned on," says Daniel Lupton, the owner of the expanding Sorry State empire. He spent the better part of the last year looking at spaces throughout Raleigh and came close to finalizing one just outside of the city's center, in the Oakwood neighborhood. "But downtown is where the energy is," he says.
Since 2004, Lupton's label and distribution service have emerged as lodestars of sorts on the international punk circuit. Sorry State will be the first record store of its kind in Raleigh, not only for its location but for its stock. Located in a 900-square-foot space on Morgan Street, adjacent to eatery and late-night hangout The Borough, Sorry State will follow the highly curated and personal model of Bull City and All Day, or Goner in Memphis and Aquarius in San Francisco.
He'll use a good portion of the space to boost his healthy mail-order business. But after a year spent selling records to Raleigh hardcore fans through a small used-vinyl shop on Glenwood Avenue called In the Groove, Lupton knows that there's a rapt audience for his merchandise in the city—one capable of supporting such a specialized place. He also wants to use the store as a way to learn about what's been happening outside of punk and hardcore during his own immersion in those worlds during the last decade, so that he can build the other portions of inventory to suit potential new customers. He hopes to use online sales to keep records moving in and out of the store, creating a dynamic space where merchandise doesn't gather dust for long.
"More general record stores are tougher to operate because you don't have those core titles that you're going to sell dozens or hundreds of copies of anymore," he says. "I want the store to have a really high turnover. The die-hard people know they have to come in every week."
Schoolkids' model, however, will continue to be relatively traditional. A wide swath of new and used inventory will be available both on compact disc and vinyl, though Judge concedes that the CD format is steadily losing ground to the older form in his store, too. The Tuesday before Judge announced the new location, the store was busy selling copies of Magpie and the Dandelion, the second LP in two years by North Carolina folk insurgents The Avett Brothers, and Last Night on Earth, the new solo disc by Sonic Youth co-founder Lee Ranaldo, two titles that he thinks reflect the broad demographic to which the store can appeal. Judge says his numbers are up from last year, a rarity among independent record stores and a sign that he's reconnected with his customer base.
But the new location, which increases Schoolkids' footprint by about 500 square feet, will offer new opportunities: The former Blockbuster Video space will provide more room for extra-musical items such as turntables and speakers, T-shirts and stickers—not to mention beer sales and better parking. As an N.C. State graduate, Judge is sad to leave Hillsborough Street, but rents and the strip's updated image no longer seemed welcoming.
"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. "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.'"
Shaw and Marchant are worried about their future on Hillsborough Street, too, as Nice Price's front entrance now faces a nearly 1,000-bedroom student housing project called Valentine Commons. They've shopped at Schoolkids' different Hillsborough Street locations since childhood, so the store's move is a bit of a nostalgia trigger for both. Still, they speak with the nebulous ideas and unbridled enthusiasm of new business owners, even days before they've inked the final Nice Price contract.
"We're trying to be proactive, but it's been difficult to get the backing to be proactive," Shaw says. "And now that we're our own backing, we can finally do that."
They're adding wheels to the store's massive wooden crates and shelves so that they can empty the floors to create room for events—open rehearsals, book readings, proper concerts. They talk about clearing aging inventory that hasn't moved in years to make way for more new music—more reissues of records that are getting harder to find, more local music, more cassettes that no one else in Raleigh is selling. They talk about working harder to promote shows and new bands, building a listening-and-reading lounge and creating a storefront that participates in its community rather than just sells it stuff.
These are all visions they've had for Nice Price for years, they agree, and now they finally have the power to test them.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The record exchange."