Best Store for New CD's, Used CD's, and Staff 

Millennium Music

Millennium Music

Downtown. 372 King St. 722-1000

In 1998, our first BOC ballot had about half as many categories as the 2007 ballot. Yet two of the ballot's most consistently popular categories -- Best Place to Buy New CDs and Best Place to Buy Used CDs -- have been on there from the beginning. And in a decade of BOCs, the winners of those two categories have changed about as often as Dolly Parton's hairstyle.

For 10 consecutive years, Millennium Music has owned the New CD category -- and once we introduced the Best CD Store Staff category in 2000, they staked their claim to that one as well. Meanwhile, the Best Used CD category was traditionally an annual smackdown between Manifest Discs and Tapes (now Monster Music & Movies) and 52.5 Records. Last year, though, Millennium edged out both of those longtime contenders, achieving a complete sweep of the CD field.

This year they've done it again, taking all three categories.

To a certain degree, their domination of the field is a direct result of big changes in the music retailing industry -- and Millennium's new business model.

There were an estimated 4,500 chain record stores in the U.S. in 1997, compared with just 1,600 today -- a drop attributable largely to the rise of iTunes, internet-based file sharing, and digital downloading of music. Facing bankruptcy last October, Tower Records, the single biggest chain retailer in the U.S., decided to shutter all its stores and set up shop online. Ten years ago, Millennium Music had three successful retail locations in Charleston, plus franchises in Wilmington, Raleigh, and Durham, and plans for expansion across the Southeast. Today, Millennium has retrenched to a single downtown store at the corner of King and Calhoun, and was notified last year that the building's owners, PrimeSouth Real Estate, plan to construct a new complex of condominiums and smaller retail spaces on the busy corner.

Their response? Go on the offensive. "In a word," says Millennium managing partner Kent Wagner, "our business model has changed from 'new' to 'used.'"

A year and a half ago, Millennium started offering a used CD trade for new iPods. That deal has since become one of its most popular services. For iPod users, CDs are essentially round, silver anachronisms once their contents have been legally burned to the user's iTunes library on a PC or Mac. Why not trade them in? The trade-in program also operates as the supply end of its new revenue model. Millennium's focus is now on the warehouse-sized stock of used titles they sell for $5 each in-store and online at www.feedyourplayer.com.

The program's been so successful that this month Millennium is taking it national. A recent infusion of cash from an investment partner has allowed the store to begin acquiring a huge new inventory of used CDs from wholesale vendors and liquidation sales ("Rumor has it independent music stores aren't doing so well these days," partner Clayton Woodson quips). They're also advertising the online FeedYourPlayer program and the iPod trade as far away as San Francisco. Wagner and Woodson are even considering starting a pickup program in town to jump-start lagging in-store CD trade-ins.

"There's about 10 million used CDs in the greater Charleston market," Wagner observes. "We know that because we sold half of them."

With PrimeSouth's condo deal currently in indefinite limbo, Millennium seems to have gained some time to focus on business without worrying too much about an immediate departure from their present location. ("The developers are saying it could be a long time," says Wagner. "We're planning on operating out of this location for a while longer.")

There's even talk of bringing a high-end modern arcade-style gameroom into the store, where patrons can kick back on sofas and play the latest console and PC releases on big-screen televisions. GameFrog Cafe currently has four stores in North Carolina, and are looking to expand south. "The synergy would be perfect," says Wagner.

The upshot? Expect Millennium to make another strong showing in next year's BOC.

"To many people, a music store is a church. That's one of the reasons it'll never die," Woodson muses. "You may not be able to explain or understand its relevance, but it has one."


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