Shawn Peters and Anthony Petrovic hatched the idea to start Reanimator at a friend’s baby shower.
Petrovic and the friend had talked about opening a table-top game shop in downtown, and Peters immediately signed on for the venture, but suggested a record store might be more viable. With the imminent arrival of his child, their friend decided that investing in a new business might not be the wisest financial move, and Peters and Petrovic wound up launching the store together. They rented a tiny storefront on Patterson Avenue in September 2012.
Reanimator, which closes at the end of this week, has always been hard to pin down as a business proposition, which was both part of its magic and its undoing. Starting as a record store and junk shop, Reanimator has also served as an art gallery, stocked video games, sold books and released music compilations, and also Brian Clarey’s Winston-Salem office.
They added beer taps and held hot dog roasts. Considering its modest size, the store has improbably hosted dozens of concerts; as Peters noted, if 10 people showed up it felt packed. Whatever it was at any given time, it almost always felt like a weirdo club for people who were into arts and music.
As Peters would readily admit, the venture was always driven more by his and Petrovic’s enthusiasms than anything that could be considered a practical business plan.
Reanimator’s history is closely intertwined with Phuzz Phest, the mighty little indie-rock festival that Petrovic cofounded with Philip Pledger in 2011. Reanimator was the scene of more than its share of startling moments, whether it was T0w3rs (aka Derek Torres) performing his mesmerizing glam karaoke act on the sidewalk outside the store during Reanimator’s block party in 2014, or the folk duo Lowland Hum creating an intimate circle inside the store replete with incense the following year.
“This place has been a money hole; we’ve always known that,” Peters said on a recent Saturday as he inventoried the store’s vinyl collection. “We can’t keep doing this without any sign of improvement. We talked every six months about whether we would continue, and this is the time it felt right.”
(Petrovic, his partner, was recovering from a dental procedure and sidelined with a dose of Novocain to manage the pain, Peters said.)
The advent of Black Lodge, a bar around the corner, as a venue and increased bookings at the recently opened Test Pattern on Trade Street reassured him and Petrovic that the music scene was stable enough to hand over the reins, Peters said.
Through Reanimator’s lifespan, Peters has worked an 8-5 gig as a product developer for Hatch Early Learning, while Petrovic put in hours at the store and booked the shows. The business also relied on a corps of volunteers, who were compensated in tips — an arrangement that sometimes bothered Peters because he felt it bordered on exploitation. And cash-flow problems made it difficult to restock records — a constraint that prevented the business from reaching its potential.
“I think it’s been confusing to random people what we’re trying to do,” said Peters, a perfectionist who has a tendency to be his own worst critic. “People who’ve been with us from the beginning understand we’re interested in creating a space for music and art, and a place to put on smaller bands. Someone who walks in off the street is probably thinking to themselves: ‘Okay, there’s a hundred records and some beer. After 15 minutes, I’ve seen it.’”
While shedding its brick-and-mortar presence, Reanimator will continue to host parties at different venues in town and produce music compilations, persevering as “a force for weirdness in Winston-Salem,” as Peters put it.
The block of Patterson Avenue where Reanimator is located has burgeoned since the store opened in 2012. At the time, Peters said, their only neighbors were the Yadkin Riverkeeper office and the Camel City Tattoo Shoppe. But BioTech Place, a centerpiece of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, opened the same year a block north on Patterson. Since that time, the innovation quarter has continued to creep southward with the completion of Bailey Park, renovation of former tobacco factories to the east of the park and plans to create an entertainment and retail complex at Bailey Power Plant on the park’s west flank. Peters said he doesn’t see Reanimator’s weirdo-punk ethos as exactly aligned with the tech-driven growth in the Innovation Quarter.
“The way this block is going and the money that’s coming in we’re not going to be able to get away with what we’re doing,” Peters said. “Not that we ever did anything illegal. The people complain at the lofts when we have concerts. The police have always been cool with us. They would say, ‘You’d think they would know what they’re getting into.’”
A significant barrier to Reanimator’s ability to grow and become viable is something familiar to anyone who’s undertaken a creative venture in the Triad — the limited number of people with the interest and discretionary income to support it. The colleges and universities in Winston-Salem can seem like islands, Peters said; while the store has attracted some notice from Wake Forest University students, oddly enough their peers at UNC School of the Arts seem to have never discovered it.
“The music-going community is the same as it was six years ago,” Peters said. “There’s not a lot of new blood. There’s a lot of great bands. The people involved are vibrant and supportive of each other. But you can only see the same band so many times before you tell yourself: ‘Maybe I don’t have to go.’ If there’s a beach trip, the venue is half empty. People will say, ‘There’s a beach trip planned for that weekend. We might want to postpone the show.’ Really?”
Beyond continuing his day job with Hatch Early Learning, Peters has two other projects he’s looking forward to devoting more time to. He’s a member of Electric Pyramid, a local artist cooperative, and is collaborating with Dane Walters and Holland Berson on Boogies, a venture to produce latex horror masks, while Petrovic is working at the new Slappy’s Chicken.
“It’s bittersweet,” Peters said. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really cool people. I’ve gotten to see a lot of great bands. This place has been so many different things. I’m gonna miss that. On the other hand, it will be a relief.”