Spotlight: Schoolkids Records puts a positive spin on change

Owner Stephen Judge

Owner Stephen Judge

by Tracy Davis

photographs by Travis Long

It’s business as usual over at Schoolkids Records this spring, and for owner Stephen Judge, that’s a welcome change of pace. Last year, after almost four decades of business on Hillsborough Street, Schoolkids celebrated both its 40th anniversary and the first year in its new spot at Mission Valley shopping center. Judge also opened a new outpost in March at Brightleaf Square in Durham.

“You have to change and adapt to survive,” Judge says. “Schoolkids did, and it’s got another forty years of life in it.” Still, “the move was nerve-racking, for sure…I miss hearing the bell tower chime every day, but then I also wish the ACC would go back to eight schools. Progress has to happen.”

The new Raleigh Schoolkids has six beers on tap, a better stage for live in-store performances, and ample parking, meaning patrons no longer need to engage in the “will there be a spot and if so will I get towed for using it?” mental gamesmanship required at its last digs. Best of all, there’s a deeper range of vinyl: this is, after all, Schoolkids Records.

So Judge has reasons to be happy about the move, and also about Record Store Day – a nationwide celebration of independent record stores – on Saturday, April 18. True believers would probably correct that date to the 17th … because that’s when the line forms.

“Even in the pouring rain,” Judge says, “they’re here early and they come with their lists, because you’ve got to be here in person to get it.”

Conceived in 2007 by a group of independent brick-and-mortar record stores, RSD celebrates music on vinyl with hundreds of releases exclusive to RSD, and announced on its website in March. In addition to new music, RSD treats include limited edition packages, reissues of records long out of print, and colored vinyl. Why colored vinyl? “Because it looks like candy,” says Judge. “It’s fun.”

For those who missed the memo, take note: vinyl is back. It’s been back, because records appeal to music lovers exactly the same way a gorgeous hardback or a well-loved paperback call to an old-school reader.

Not only is RSD the busiest day of the year for Schoolkids, each RSD is bigger than the last, meaning that the line and the wait are long. But nobody minds, and the holiday atmosphere prompts the crowd, which ranges from teenagers building a new vinyl collection to the loyal over-50 patrons who grew up with the store, to become what Judge calls “line friends.”

This year, to make the scene outside the store as interesting as the one inside, Judge is adding parking lot DJ-ing and a beer tent partnership with Starr Hill Brewery. Mid-afternoon, members of pop-punk band All Time Low will stop by for a signing before their show across town at The Ritz.

And of course there’s live music, too. On the bill for in-store sets are Dom Flemons (formerly of Grammy-award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Civil Twilight, and others Judge can’t disclose ahead of time. “Good bands,” he says with a smile.

After the RSD hoopla wraps up, the schedule will settle back down, but the store stays lively. There are listening parties and live in-store performances all year, including shows in support of Hopscotch and the International Bluegrass Music Association bluegrass fest.

What Schoolkids does best, though, is also the simplest thing it does, and that’s serving up a long wall full of record bins, brimming with art and sound. Patrons flip through them just like Judge did a couple decades ago, when he was an N.C. State student and talked his way into a Schoolkids job. Now, he’s come full circle, and Schoolkids keeps spinning along.

Forrest Bean, left, and Martin Pitts browse vinyl records

Forrest Bean, left, and Martin Pitts browse vinyl records

For more information on Record Store Day – which will also take place at additional area record stores like Nice Price Books and Records, and Edward McKay Used Books and More, go to For more about Schoolkids, visit

Both Schookids locations will be celebrating Record Store Day:

Raleigh: 2237 Avent Ferry Rd., Suite 101; Durham: 905 W Main St.