To all outward appearances, Oct. 10 was an average laid-back Sunday at The Great Escape's Broadway store. Bearded hipsters thumbed through the newly purchased vinyl, blowing past the complete works of Jethro Tull before pondering the irony value of Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack. Meanwhile, in the comic-store half, an employee and customer chatted about Magic: The Gathering "blue mill decks" while the day's purchases were sorted out on work tables behind the register. Everything was as it usually is, but with one significant caveat — this will all be gone in a week.
Two weeks ago, on Sept. 29, Great Escape founder Gary Walker dropped a shocker on members of the store's email list: After 33 years in business, the local record shop's flagship location at 1925 Broadway will close and merge into the recently reopened Charlotte Avenue store on Oct. 17. While disappointment rang out from all corners of the Internet, no one is more disappointed about the move than Walker himself.
"We want very much to stay there," Walker said by phone from the Charlotte location. "We made every effort up until three weeks ago to stay in that area."
Other used-media stores have come and gone, capsized by the shift toward digital buying and general fluctuations in the music industry and the economy. But The Great Escape's location near the Vanderbilt campus long made it a hub of the city's rock scene — especially in the 1980s, when it was a dot in the straight line connecting Vanderbilt's radio station 91 Rock to the legendary rock club Cantrell's farther down Broadway. It was the place hungry students went to sell their music stashes when times were lean, or to discover cheap treasures when wallets were flush.
According to Walker, the owners were notified two years ago by property owners H.G. Hill Realty that the lot would be subject to a significant rent increase upon the end of their lease in 2010. Though the phrase "lost our lease" is pasted to moving sale signs littering the store, it would be more accurate to say that the area has, in Walker's words, "priced itself out of The Great Escape being able to operate there."
Over the past several months, The Great Escape has been in intense negotiations with property owners along Broadway in hopes of staying in the neighborhood. But as potential deals at the old Broadway Music building and on the Music Row Roundabout gradually fell through, only one option remained — pick up and move the headquarters to Charlotte.
"The concept of combining and doing the super store thing came in the last few days as having to do it, because we failed in our quest to find a location there that we could afford and have parking," Walker explains.
The Charlotte store opened in summer 2008 as an expansion of the warehouse and online operations. Initially its storefront served as a replacement for the Half-Price Store, now occupied by Lone Wolf Tattoo. At 26,500 square feet, the former bowling alley dwarfs TGE's four other locations, including Broadway.
"It'll be a better move, I think," says Trevor Evans-Young, a keyholder at the Broadway store who has worked for TGE since August 2008. The Charlotte store vastly improves the parking situation and, with the reopening of the "half-price" store in the other half of the store, will offer twice as much product. He also shrugged off dismay over the loss of Broadway's character. Character can be rebuilt over time, he says.
Not everyone in the community is as optimistic. Former Broadway manager Jesse Baker responded to the news with chagrin, stating that he "can't help but see this as a loss rather than a move — but an institution loved by its customers, no matter how deeply, still answers to its owners in the end."
Even Walker admits that closing 1925 Broadway will be a "great, great loss to us," both financially — the store is the most profitable in the TGE pantheon — and in the eyes of long-time customers.
Much of the store has already been moved. The upstairs catacombs filled with comics and duplicate CDs, DVDs and records designated for restocking the floor are gone. All that remains is what's on the ground floor, which is being whittled down in a 25-percent-off moving sale in effect until the last hours on Broadway.
Even so, Walker is leaving the door open for a 25th-hour rescue.
"If somebody came today and gave a call with an offer in that area that fit our needs," Walker says, "I would jump at it."
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