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Manifest Destiny

Demise of Carolinas' biggest indie record stores says it all about today's music business

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But he soldiered through, as he'd done as an assistant manager at the Greenville Manifest, before being promoted. And when this year's holiday season came and went much more smoothly, and the store had done its best used-sales month ever in December, he felt that the future was looking relatively bright. He'd even planned to use his profit-sharing bonus -- remember: Manifest made money the last three years -- to buy a home in Charlotte.

"I've been busting my ass here for seven years, doing everything above and beyond the call of duty, which is just how I work," Wishart said. "To go back and have to start completely over again? It sucks."

But the bottom line is . . . the bottom line. In the battle of art and commerce, the latter regrettably holds all the high cards. So chalk up another one for business acumen, and add some more folks to the unemployment roll call; it doesn't make you a Luddite to bemoan the fact that progress, whatever that is, always comes with a human price tag. In the case of Manifest, the price seems steeper than normal, because Charlotte loses more than just a strong retail outlet. The staff was, with rare exceptions, an eclectic and broad-minded group of people whose enthusiasm for music was visceral and contagious; at a little over minimum wage, there's rarely any incentive to work in a record store other than the music. They're the kind of people, by and large, who lost their jobs but felt equally bad for the regulars who came to rely on Manifest.

"The thing that gets underplayed is that a great music store is a center of community," DeRogatis said. "Sure, it's real easy to sit here and one-click on Amazon to buy something, but it's just not the same."

"I pretty much have a feel for everybody who works here," said Cailin Deery, an 18-year-old Providence High student and weekly visitor who does not enjoy shopping on-line. "I know their tastes and so I always know who to ask when I'm deciding between albums. I don't even know most of their names, but I have a decent familiarity with all of them, and we have conversations about music all the time. It's nice to have a real opinion."

Compare that with the browsing experience you get at the superstores, where the faceless help (assuming you can find them) wouldn't know Iggy and the Stooges from Larry, Moe and Curly.

But let's say you get all your music needs met on-line and are wondering what all the hand wringing and fuss is about. Alex Steinenger, owner of the Portland, OR-based independent label, In Music We Trust, has never set foot in a Manifest but is familiar with the retailer's excellent reputation through first-hand experience of a different sort. He also has a clear warning for what its loss means for music lovers in the Carolinas:

"Manifest was one of those stores where when your bands played North Carolina, Charlotte especially, you could get window displays with posters, you could buy a listening station, you could get product in the stores, and you'd pretty much be covered in that market, even if no other stores picked up your title," he said. "Without Manifest, it leaves a lot of people scrambling when our bands go through that town. Where can I place product where it's noticeable and meaningful? It leaves a big gap, and, frankly, makes it a little harder to justify stopping there (Charlotte)."


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