The Chapel Hill location of Schoolkids Records on East Franklin Street is closing its doors for good at the end of March. After more than 30 years of business in the town, owner Mike Phillips says foot traffic virtually died at the store in the last 16 months. "As much as I would like to keep the store open as a national landmark, it's not worth losing money," Phillips says.
He plans to liquidate most of his stock and transfer what's left to the Raleigh location, which will remain open as long as the store makes a profit. "We'll lower things to cost to get rid of them," he says of the Chapel Hill stock, "but that's not exactly any savings for anybody because the damn things cost a fortune."
Phillips blames rising CD prices and widespread music downloading for the Chapel Hill location's quick decline in sales. "Our bread and butter has always been college kids, but these kids are savvy," Phillips says. "If you can download these things free of charge, there is no reason in most cases to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a hard copy. The record companies these days are basically run by CPAs. ... [They] don't realize when a list price on a compact disc is $19, people are not going to pay that."
Independent music distributor Redeye, based in Mebane and partly managed by former Schoolkids employees, approached Phillips to purchase the store, Phillips says, but the deal fell through. "Everyone hates to see a landmark like this close and they felt that way too, but they just have too much going on to deal with this."
"One of the guys who works here used to work there, and he personally was very interested in seeing what the possibilities were," says Redeye co-owner and label manager Glenn Dicker, adding that no official offer was ever made. "We have so many different initiatives on our plate that opening a physical retail store seemed like a very difficult thing to take on."
Schoolkids Records music stores have been in most major college towns on the East Coast. The chain started in 1972 in Athens, Ga., and the Chapel Hill store, now at its third location on East Franklin Street, opened in 1975. A second storefront in Chapel Hill opened in 2005 but closed last year.
"Many of our sister stores have moved toward being half-music, half-lifestyle stores," says Ric Culross, manager of the Chapel Hill and Raleigh locations. "They're also selling black lights and T-shirts—current trends—because the markup is huge."
Still, Phillips says the days are gone when independent music stores can make a large profit. "No one will ever make any money doing this, but there are those who still love doing it. They will have to be very shrewd business people and really know what they're doing."
This story originally appeared on indyweek.com Monday, Feb. 25.