Iconic Raleigh music store forced to move as new development progresses

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Lined wall to wall with hundreds of drums, cymbals and accessories, 2112 is a percussionist’s paradise. The Raleigh store is moving across town as new developments take over its space.

It’s the end of an era for one of Raleigh’s “iconic” retailers.

Nestled between a mall and an auto store, 2112 Percussion has been a drummer’s mecca for over 25 years.

Drum kits, cymbals, snares and accessories line every inch of the shop at 1003 E. Whitaker Mill Road. The uninitiated might call it cluttered. Drummers know best. They call it cozy and organized.

The 35-year-old store has been serving the drumming community from its current space since 1994, developing a reputation as one of the top instrument retailers in the Southeast and North Carolina’s “largest drum specialty store”, according to its website.

But the aging building and many of its neighbors will soon give way to a $250 million apartment, restaurant, retail and office project called East End Market. Raleigh-based SLI Capital and Koch Real Estate Investments – a company founded by Charles Koch – are partnering on the development that will replace the modest 2112 space with towers of up to 11 stories.

“It’s a bit of a shame what’s going on,” said Tony Williams, one of 2112’s co-owners. “So many iconic places in Raleigh have had to close due to new developments. A lot of people have had a lot of good memories in those places.

Unlike many development-forced retailers, 2112 has plans to survive. Williams and his business partner Chris Henderson got a new building at 5250 Capital Blvd. in the Town Square mall where they hope to open on New Years Day. It’ll more than double their current rent and require some creative renovations, but they’re glad 2112 lives on.

“We have a lot of loyal long-time customers who will miss this place,” Williams said. “But I think in general people are excited that we’re moving to a bigger, newer place and staying in business.”

From Humble Beginnings to Rock Star Hideaway

There aren’t many local drum shops left in the country.

Big-box retailers, Internet warehouses and direct-to-consumer sales have taken their toll on the traditional instrument industry.

2112 Percussion, named after Rush’s breakthrough 1976 album, prevailed with a focus on more than just drum sales. Its mission has always been to foster a community.

“Chris and I have been coming to 2112 since we were kids,” Williams said. “We were both taking drum lessons there.”

Steve Johnson opened the store in 1986 from a storage bin in Zebulon. He was a local drummer who sought to “simplify life” for his peers, according to Williams.

“He started reselling his own stuff,” Williams said. “He wanted to get some new drums and was able to get a (sales) rep to come. The guy said he would sell it to her but he had to get a door first. Well, Steve asked the storage site manager if he could get a spot with a garage door, and a week later he was selling new.

Over the next 30 years, Johnson cultivated a niche community that attracted many of the world’s top drummers.

Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Matt Cameron of Pearl Jam are former clients. Raleigh’s Corrosion of Conformity formed around the same time as 2112. Its founding drummer, Reed Mullin, who died last year, often stopped there.

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2112 has dozens of snare drum heads signed by famous drummers who have visited the store. That of Reed Mullin, on the far right, stands out from the others. Raleigh’s influential Corrosion of Conformity drummer died last year. lars dolder

When Johnson died in 2016, Williams and Henderson took over the percussionist’s playground. 2112 can store over 100 drum kits, 200 snares and hundreds of cymbals at any one time. Its products “are just the best of the best,” Williams said, as its owners and employees have all been career beaters.

The store’s most prized feature, however, has been its rehearsal rooms. Drummers can buy new equipment at many outlets, but musicians have few affordable places to practice.

“Before, there were places full of rehearsal space,” Henderson said. “There are a few left, but most have closed.”

For less than $25 an hour, bands could secure soundproof practice rooms at 2112 filled with amplifiers, microphones and drums. Even musicians with the means to practice elsewhere have chosen 2112 for its atmosphere and understated professionalism. Loverboy’s Matt Frenette frequented the store for a while, and Fall Out Boy’s Andy Hurley used it as East Coast headquarters.

“For some reason, Raleigh was the best place for him to meet people for training,” Williams said of Hurley. “He was just laid back, no ego, no rock star s—. It was like another guy was coming to practice.

The new space on Capital Boulevard will open upgraded rehearsal rooms in February. For its grand opening on January 1, the store will offer several discounts.

“We’ll have a sort of sale for New Year’s weekend to get people to come and get used to the new place,” Williams said.

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2112 Percussion will open January 1 in its new location at 5250 Capital Blvd. in the Town Square shopping center. Its owners plan to offer New Year’s specials for the grand opening. lars dolder

A moving landscape

The homes behind the 2112 East Whitaker Mill building have already been razed. Almost everything on 10 acres between Wake Forest Road and Atlantic Avenue, east of Five Points, will eventually fall.

“We had said at one point that it might take three, four, five more years,” Williams said. “Six months ago they gave us a six-month lease extension, which was great. But as soon as we asked for another one we saw buildings collapsing around us and we knew that was it.

Acquiring the land north of downtown Raleigh cost around $18 million, the developers previously told The News & Observer. A preliminary phase of the East End project began in the spring to redevelop industrial warehouse space into 70,000 square feet of new foodservice and retail offerings.

“Between all of this and the pandemic, we were really terrified at first,” Henderson said. “But it forced us to change gears. I think it will work out eventually, but we will really miss this place.

This story was originally published December 27, 2021 4:30 p.m.

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Lars Dolder is a business reporter at The News & Observer focusing on retail.

Alice P. Darby