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It’s the end of an era for one of Raleigh’s “iconic” retailers.
Nestled between a strip mall and auto shop, 2112 Percussion has been a drummer’s mecca for more than 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. Percussionists know better. They call it cozy and curated.
The 35-year-old store has served the drumming community from its current space since 1994, developing a reputation as one of the finest 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 Charles Koch-founded company — are partnering on the development that will supplant 2112’s modest space with towers up to 11 stories high.
“It’s kind of a shame what’s happening,” said Tony Williams, one of 2112’s co-owners. “So many iconic places in Raleigh have had to close because of new developments. A lot of people have had a lot of good memories in those places.”
Unlike many retailers forced out by development, 2112 has plans to survive. Williams and his business partner Chris Henderson have secured a new building at 5250 Capital Blvd. in the Town Square Shopping Center where they hope to open on New Year’s Day. It will more than double their current rent and take some creative renovation, but they’re happy 2112 will endure.
“We have a lot of longtime, loyal 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 just that we’re staying in business.”
From humble beginnings to a rock star’s haven
There aren’t many locally owned drum stores left in the country.
Big box retailers, internet warehouses and direct-to-consumer sales have wreaked havoc on the traditional instrument industry.
2112 Percussion, named after Rush’s breakthrough album from 1976, has prevailed by emphasizing more than drum sales. Its mission has always been to foster a community.
“Both 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 out of a storage bin in Zebulon. He was a local drummer looking “to make life easier” for his peers, according to Williams.
“He started just reselling his own stuff,” Williams said. “He wanted to get new drums and managed to get one (sales) rep to come. The guy said he’d sell to him but he had to have a door first. Well, Steve asked the storage site manager if he could have a place with a garage door, and a week later he was selling new stuff.”
Over the next 30 years, Johnson cultivated a niche community that attracted many of the world’s finest 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 past customers. Raleigh’s Corrosion of Conformity formed at about the same time as 2112. Its founding drummer, Reed Mullin, who died last year, often stopped by.
When Johnson died in 2016, Williams and Henderson took over the percussionist’s playground. 2112 can stock more than 100 drum kits, 200 snare drums and hundreds of cymbals at any given time. Its products “are only the best of the best,” Williams said, because its owners and workers have all been career drummers.
The store’s most prized feature, though, has been its rehearsal rooms. Drummers can buy new equipment from many outlets, but musicians have few affordable locales in which to practice.
“There used to be places just full of rehearsal spaces,” Henderson said. “There are a couple of those left, but most have shut down.”
For less than $25 an hour, bands could secure soundproof practice rooms at 2112 replete with amplifiers, microphones and a drum kit. Even musicians with the means to practice elsewhere have selected 2112 for its atmosphere and quiet professionalism. Loverboy’s Matt Frenette frequented the store for a time, and Fall Out Boy’s Andy Hurley used it as his East Coast headquarters.
“For whatever reason, Raleigh was the best place for him to meet up with people to practice,” Williams said of Hurley. “He was just laid back, no ego, no rock star s—. It was like just another guy coming through to practice.”
The new space on Capital Boulevard will open modernized rehearsal rooms in February. For its grand opening on Jan. 1, the store will offer several discounts.
“We’ll have some kind of sale for News Year’s weekend to get people coming in and used to the new place,” Williams said.
A shifting landscape
Houses behind 2112’s 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 come down.
“It had been said at one point that it might be three, four, five more years,” Williams said. “Six months ago they gave us a six-month extension on the lease, which was great. But as soon as we asked for another we saw buildings coming down around us and knew that was it.”
Acquisition of the land north of downtown Raleigh cost about $18 million, developers previously told The News & Observer. A prior phase of the East End project began in the spring to redevelop industrial warehouse space into 70,000 square feet of new restaurant and retail offerings.
“Between all that and the pandemic, we were really terrified at first,” Henderson said. “But it forced us to change gears. I think it’ll work out in the end, but we’ll really miss this place.”
This story was originally published December 27, 2021 4:30 PM.