When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

25 March 2008

College towns won't be quite the same

This is sad:
You need a college, of course, but that's not the only ingredient in a good college town. You need quirky bookstores. Coffee shops - preferably not all chains. A diner. An artsy cinema. A dive bar.

There's one other thing you need, and it's getting harder to find: a local record store. The kind of place with poster-covered walls, tattoo-covered customers, and an indie-rock aficionado at the cash register, somebody in a retro T-shirt who helps you navigate the store's eclectic inventory.

A few years ago on just one block of Chapel Hill's Franklin Street, the main drag in what's been called America's ideal college town, four or five such places catered both to locals and University of North Carolina students.

But with the demise of Schoolkids Records, the last one is gone. Schoolkids had planned to gut it out through March, but couldn't even make through its final week and shut down Saturday. It's just the latest victim in an industry hit by rising college-town rents, big-box retailers, high CD prices, and - most importantly - a new generation of college students for whom music has become an entirely online, intangible hobby they often don't have to pay for.

In college towns across the USA, record stores bite the dust (News and Observer/Associated Press)

The quirky bookstores will be next to go. Similar dynamics are slowly squeezing the life out of independent booksellers, although they may hang on a little longer.

The genius of the independent music store/bookstore is that you have hardcore geeks curating the inventory of items for sale, and you find brilliant little gems in the rough that you likely never would have encountered otherwise.

The foundation of my record collection, and to some extent my musical taste, was formed by purchases made at Schoolkids in Chapel Hill and Raleigh and Poindexter Records in Durham.

I am as guilty as anyone of using Amazon for a lot of my "commodity" book and music purchases. I guess that blogs will, to some extent, fill the gap created by the demise of the independent store owners with eclectic tastes, but it definitely feels like the end of an era.

New York City retains a very few independent bookstores and collector-focused music stores, but I don't know how much longer they can hold on.

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