It's already been a rough summer for local-music landmarks, and that got even worse with the recent announcement that a huge hotel is slated to go up on the Bell Tower block of Hillsborough Street. NC State University owns the land, and if this comes to pass, it will displace both Sadlack's and Schoolkids Records.
It's not good to lose live-music clubs, but losing the last big independent store in Raleigh might be even worse. For the time being, Schoolkids should be around at least until its lease runs out next February. And there's a chance it might hang in there a bit longer than that, given how long the hotel project should take to pull together.
"I'd say next summer will look the same as this summer on that block," NCSU director of real estate Ralph Recchie said while the university was in the process of negotiating the deal last month. "Fall of 2012, you might see some groundbreaking. But that's an ambitious timetable that assumes no difficulties in zoning or financing, and no further blips in the economy. Our original goal was for this to be under construction at the same time the street was under construction, which obviously didn't happen."
Ah yes, the street construction. Putting a traffic circle on Hillsborough at the Bell Tower was suppose to make it safer and revitalize businesses in the vicinity. But Schoolkids manager Ric Culross says that the traffic circle has been a disaster for the store.
"When we moved to this site two-and-a-half years ago, at first we were doing a 20-percent increase in business over the previous location," Culross says. "Then they put the barrels up, started working on the street and we've never come close to that since. Every day, at least one person walks into the store and says, 'This is the first time I've been back here since they redid the street and it's also the last, because of that traffic circle.' It has six wrecks a month, which surprised city planners. I'm surprised it's not more."
As to what happens after Schoolkids' time on the Bell Tower lot is up, owner Mike Phillips couldn't be blamed if he threw in the towell. The store has struggled along with the rest of the music-retail industry, and Phillips has hinted more than once that he's ready to give up. But Culross says that Phillips might have something else in mind -- a roots move of sorts.
"Mike has said he'd like to stay on Hillsborough and go back to the original site where he first started," Culross says. "That was underneath the bowling alley. Based on what the numbers state, with the influx of vinyl sales, we do believe there's a future here. Hope so."