Not so long ago, Schoolkids Records was more than just an institutional Raleigh music shop.
Before the turn of the millennium, the Schoolkids name anchored several North Carolina stores and one in Athens, Ga. But the Cary outpost closed nearly a decade ago, the Chapel Hill location in 2008; last July, Athens newspapers broke the news that another college record store was done. In the post-digital age of dwindling record sales, the number of Schoolkids diminished until all that was left was one Wake County stronghold.
Former Schoolkids employee Stephen Judge acquired the store on Hillsborough Street April 1. He is now tasked with making sure the Schoolkids name doesn't go extinct. By buying out previous owner Mike Phillips, who refused to speak about the sale, Judge adds the retail outlet to a small music conglomerate that includes the Second Motion Records imprint and the music magazine Blurt. All three of Judge's businesses will now operate from Schoolkids' Hillsborough Street location.
"It's such a great brand, and Mike had done such a great job of building it up over the years as far as all the people that had worked here," says Judge, 42, crossing his arms atop a stool in Schoolkids' cramped back office. "It was just a shame to see it go away, being an N.C. State grad and growing up here. The Schoolkids I used to work at was down the street—I was like, 'Nuh uh, ain't no way I'm going to let that one happen.'"
Judge came by his love of Schoolkids honestly: He arrived at N.C. State University with the dream of working at the shop adjacent to the campus. He got his wish in 1990, clerking, buying and managing at several Schoolkids locations on and off until 2002, when he left for a position with Haw River-based record distributor Redeye. He eventually became that company's first general manager.
This is Judge's second try at saving a Schoolkids store front. In 2008, he teamed with Redeye owners Glenn Dicker and Tor Hansen in an attempt to preserve the chain's closing Chapel Hill outpost. Financial complications foiled that deal.
Judge plans few obvious changes to the store, at least this year. Rather, he intends to refine the familiar genre-spanning mix of music. Enhancing the vinyl selection is high on the to-do list, as is a new website that will allow the store to expand its current mail-order business. He plans to dig deeper into the local music community, an effort highlighted by in-shop Record Store Day performances by the Dexter Romweber Duo and Delta Rae this Saturday.
A possible move looms for the location on Hillsborough Street. Plans are in place to tear down the building that contains it, making way for a hotel and parking garage. The store should have at least a year before vacating would be necessary.
"Two years from now, we'll have our 40th anniversary. It's a big deal. It's something to be proud of," says Judge. "My goal would be to stay on Hillsborough Street. We've been here for 38 years. We don't plan on going anywhere."
One unfortunate casualty of Schoolkids' new direction will be longtime manager Ric Culross. Judge plans to run the shop himself, so he's unable to afford keeping Culross on staff. The 22-year Schoolkids veteran will train Judge through the end of the month and then move on to find new employment.
"My heart hurts," Culross says. "There's a lot of sadness involved, a lot of memories. It was a heck of a job. It was a heck of a run. But it's nice to have new blood and a fresh outlook. Stephen has been involved with music in all different areas. It brings a new aspect to the store."
This article appeared in print with the headline "New stream."