(A few hours before the most important basketball game of the season to date, I'm going to write about a record store.)
I just heard the news that Schoolkids Records closed. It's a bit of a surprise, since I was just there at the end of February, picking up the new Mountain Goats and Vampire Weekend CDs, and the place looked, well, as healthy a record store can look in this day and age.
As a kid with an incredibly lousy taste in music - I owned multiple Huey Lewis and the News albums, and the first purchase I made with my own money was a Wilson Phillips cassette - Schoolkids was like landing on an alien planet. I remember just wandering blank-faced on my first visit in Greensboro, not recognizing anything. It wasn't until Chapel Hill, though, where it became a haven, a place to wander through while killing time before class, on the way to get a Squeaky Dog.
Yes, at the time there were five stores on the block - the one tucked behind the comic book store, the one down the alley from Johnny T-Shirt next the Chinese restaurant, the chain that began as Record Bar and I believe stumbled to closing as CD Wherehouse and the one down by the Flying Burrito - but Schoolkids was by far the best. It's where I slipped from bad pop to good indie, from They Might Be Giants (every geek seems to start that way) through the local Squirrel Nut Zippers and Archers of Loaf. During my summer of work-study my two friends and I swung by every day for a week asking if they had the new Dandy Warhols album - one of the other guys was running their website at the time - until in exasparation the guy behind the counter just said that they were never going to get it in, and gave us all the free swag the store had ever accumulated from the band.
After college, I spent three years toiling away in Raleigh, back when the town had two Schoolkids, and at a time when I couldn't really see any concerts (night shift job) they were my sole link to music. I still remember the first album that got the approval of the hot girl behind the counter - Wilco's Summerteeth. It wasn't until I left the Triangle for another college town across the country, that I learned the most important lesson about music, however:
Most record stores suck.
This was quite traumatic for me. Schoolkids had given me a certain level of expectation I felt entitled to upon entering an independent store. To walk into a place that had the same atmosphere as a Schoolkids, the same hand-labelled dividers and poster-covered walls and not actually find the music I was looking for was very disconcerting. By now the internet had come of age - I walked into stores looking for specific albums, knowing they had been released, only to have the guy behind the counter have no idea what I was talking about.
This made the trips back to North Carolina all the more important. Not only would I cull the best-of lists to have in advance what to pick up, but I could wander the racks, thinking of the most obscure thing on my iPod, the stuff I had already ordered from strange labels in foreign currencies... and Schoolkids would have it. Obscure Swedish pop? Check. The handmade album I'd actually written to the band for? Soundtracks to movies I'd never heard of? Again, yes.
I've only found a few places that can approach Schoolkids. Ameoba Records in L.A. and San Francisco have the selection but not the warmth, and there a couple of D.C. places with promise, but I guess now I'll be forced to go to Raleigh for my Schoolkids fix.
And even they won't have "Jackie Manuel Has a Posse" T-shirts. I really should have picked one of those up when I had the chance.