Raleigh’s Schoolkids Records gets new owner

New Schoolkids owner says music store’s future is the past

avaughn@newsobserver.comApril 20, 2012 

  • Schoolkids will be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday. In-store performances:

    1 p.m. Dexter Romweber Duo

    2 p.m. Michael Rank & Stag

    3 p.m. John Howie & The Rosewood Bluff

    4 p.m. The Chris Stamey Quartet

    5 p.m. Delta Rae

— When he was in high school in the 1980s, Stephen Judge would drive an hour from his home in Rocky Mount to spend all his money at Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, where he could get independent and local releases the chain store back home didn’t carry.

Now 42, Judge says it’s surreal that he has become the owner of Schoolkids, one of the few record stores in the Triangle to survive the era of digital music. On April 1, Judge bought the store from Mike Phillips, who had owned it since the 1970s.

Judge worked at Schoolkids for about 10 years starting in 1990. When he wasn’t at the store, he managed Greensboro band Athenaeum and earned degrees in business management and accounting from N.C. State University.

From there, he spent several years at Redeye Distribution in Haw River, which owns the successful Yep Roc Records label, and eventually became general manager. He then started his own label, Second Motion Records, in 2008, which puts out reissues and new releases from bands such as The Church, Swervedriver and Bettie Serveert. He also bought music magazine Blurt two years ago.

Owning a record store seemed like a logical next step.

“Everything I’ve done has prepared me for this,” he said. “This is the culmination.”

Working at the register and dealing with the customers to determine what he should keep in stock, Judge said he plans to “micromanage” his inventory and concentrate on the kind of local and independent acts that kept him coming to the store while still maintaining its broader appeal.

The details of the store’s early history are murky. A longtime customer informed him that Saturday would be its 39th anniversary, and Judge has decided to go with that.

The anniversary is well timed, as Saturday is also this year’s Record Store Day celebration, an annual roll-out of limited, exclusive releases by both independent and major labels, mostly on vinyl, often accompanied by in-store performances. The national event is meant to get people excited about shopping at record stores again, and last year it was Schoolkids’ biggest sales day of all time, with customers waiting in line up to five hours.

Judge lined up veterans of the local music scene to play at the store Saturday, including the Dexter Romweber Duo, John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff (Howie fronted the Two Dollar Pistols) and the Chris Stamey Quartet, as well as Durham’s Delta Rae, which was just signed to Warner Bros. The store also will be opening an hour early, with more than 1,000 Record Store Day items for sale.

Vinyl sales have increased 40 percent at the store over the past year, now accounting for as much of its business as CDs, Judge said. He plans to increase the amount of new vinyl the store offers and expects that it will dominate sales at that point, he said.

While the store was once a chain with six locations, only the original outlet remains. It has moved twice in the past decade, although it has remained on Hillsborough Street. The future of its current location is uncertain, as NCSU, which owns the building, announced plans last year to demolish it and build a hotel.

Judge has no fears about the future of the store, he said, and plans to relocate on Hillsborough Street yet again when that becomes necessary, which he said should be at least a year away.

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