Scott Burk, manager of the F.Y.E. record store located at the intersection of Hampton and Chippewa, remembers November 30 rather vividly. And with good reason — it was the day the Post-Dispatch reported that he may soon be out of a job
The P-D's story laid out plans by fast-food giant Chick-Fil-A to purchase the building in which F.Y.E. is currently housed. Joe Vavrina, project manager at the Illinois-based engineering and consulting firm HR Green, told the paper that Chick-Fil-A had a contract on the site, with hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2017. A reporter with the daily had called F.Y.E. with some questions shortly before the article was published.
"That was the first we heard. It was my assistant manager at the time, Dave, who answered the phone," Burk says. "The reporter asked him, he's like, 'I'm just calling because I'm curious to see what's gonna happen to the store or the employees once Chick-Fil-A moves in.' [Dave] just said, 'I'm not sure what you're talking about.'"
Burk then followed up with F.Y.E.'s parent company, Trans World Entertainment, to try to get to the bottom of the matter. Trans World is a large chain of retail entertainment stores with hundreds of outlets to its name in malls and freestanding spots throughout the country, many of them F.Y.E. locations. Burk says they've been less than forthcoming.
"About all they'll tell me is no official offer has been made, keep going forward, business as usual," Burk says. "They don't really trickle too much information down to me."
Trans World's "nothing official" explanation left more questions than answers, especially considering all the P-D
's talk of contracts. Burk guesses that the Atlanta-based fast food chain had spoken with the corporate office and had maybe come to some kind of tentative agreement, pending approval from the city. (A call to Trans World seeking comment for this story was not returned.)
Now the matter is coming to the city to decide, with a public hearing scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on January 5 in room 208 at City Hall. This week, the employees at F.Y.E. have hung a sign on the door of the shop, encouraging customers to "Voice your concern or support for F.Y.E." to both the city and to Trans World, with contact information for each.
Burk says the purpose of the meeting, in his estimation, is to get feedback from the community and neighborhood about the idea of replacing the record shop with a fried chicken spot.
"I think the meeting is a bit of a formality, and I think if the city approves it and it goes forward, then they're going to go to our corporate office to try to buy out the property," Burk says.
The building, which sits at 3801 Hampton Avenue, has a long and storied history — for the most part, as a purveyor of music. The space was constructed in 1954 as a National grocery store. In 1976 the record store Peaches opened in the spot, selling mostly vinyl throughout the '80s. Then it was known as Sound Warehouse and, later, Blockbuster Music in the '90s. In 1998 it became Warehouse Music, which was purchased by Trans World in October of 2003. Trans World kept the existing name for three years before rebranding to F.Y.E. in 2006.
"We've got a very loyal customer base here — a lot of these folks have been shopping here since the old Peaches days," Burk says. "They have very vivid memories of artists signing here, the handprint that used to be in the sidewalk out front. A lot of people don't even realize that it's called F.Y.E.; they just know it as the music store here in the south side. No matter what it's called or what it changes to, they still come back."
Burk says he and his employees know many of these long-time customers by name, and often spend time chatting with them whenever they drop by. Burk himself has been at the store for eleven years; he has a part-time employee and an assistant manager who have worked there for fifteen. He's hoping that the store's longstanding place in the community will be its saving grace.
"We're hoping maybe if enough people voice their concerns or their disapproval for it, that maybe between the city or our corporate office they'll listen and hear the masses, and maybe not go forward," he explains.
As for the fast-food giant that threatens his
store's very existence? Burk chooses to be pragmatic rather than angry.
"I don't know too much about them, honestly. I hope they don't buy us out," he says. "At the end, I guess I wouldn't be too bitter toward them. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, big business and big money always talks and wins."