After more than 30 years, this Columbia music fixture is singing its swan song

Manifest in 2004.
Manifest in 2004.

The store used to advertise “Take your Rock N Roll Back to School,” “Way Cool Music. Way Out Shirts,” back in the 1980s. Now, that spirit of rebellion is closing its doors. Manifest Columbia is shutting down at the end of January, according to a longtime employee.

Manifest, the music and pop-culture store in the Boozer Shopping Center opened in 1985, founded by Carl Singmaster, a metal and heavy music fan. The legacy record store’s first location was on Main Street in Columbia. As the store grew in popularity, Manifest found its final home at the corner of Bush River and Broad River Road in the 1990s.

The store became known for its selection of music, T-shirts and other music ephemera. Singmaster opened other Manifest stores in Charlotte, Charleston and other places. In 2004, after worries that Manifest would close, the Columbia record store was sold to another company and would eventually be owned by Trans World Entertainment Corporation, a company that bought up many of the mall-based record store chains like Sam Goody and f.y.e. Under corporate ownership Manifest expanded into other areas of pop-culture such as video games. Over it’s 33 year history, Manifest was a frequent destination for people looking for a quick buck by selling vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and video games.

In 1990, Singmaster and his store took on state prosecutors around South Carolina in a column published by The State. State officials had deemed 2 Live Crew’s 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be obscene and forbade its sell, sending Manifest a letter saying the store would be searched if the rap record wasn’t removed from shelves. Manifest’s owner was threatened with jail time.

“We have given our government the power to determine what we can or cannot listen to,” Singmaster wrote. “The execution of this power is censorship. ... As a patriot, I cannot help but feel our public officials, by committing this censorship, have burnt a little piece of my American flag.”

The store, in its heyday, also used to have bands and other music acts for in-store performances. Acts that passed through often signed and drew on ceiling tiles that still sit overhead, making the ceiling a living history of the store.

Before one in-store performance in 2002, The State ran a headline that said “Jackyl takes its chainsaw to Manifest,” referencing the southern heavy rock band famous for using a chainsaw as an instrument.

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1999. A fan kisses LL Cool J during an in-store at Manifest. Kim Kim Foster

Maybe one of the most unique contributions to Columbia was that Manifest would sell local bands’ and artists’ music and zines. The store was also known as a spot to get concert tickets.

Christopher Bickel, who’s worked in Columbia’s music scene for decades and for Manifest in the ‘90s, posted on social media that Manifest was “poised to become the Tower Records of the Southeast.”

“And they almost did that ,” Bickel said.

Speaking with Ethan Fogus of Free Times, the general manager of Manifest alluded to the changing ways people buy music as one of the reason’s the store is shuttering.

“In a general sense, the way that people listen to music has changed,” Greg Lyman, Manifest’s manager, told Free Times, “and trying to support a big music store like this isn’t — it’s kind of hard to do.”

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2004. A store employee cleaned out Manifest’s distribution center after 2004 scare concerning the store closing. RICH GLICKSTEIN

The Columbia area has three records stores now — Papa Jazz in Five Points, Turntable City in Lexington, as well as Scratch and Spin in West Columbia, which also sells comics, movies and video games. Cosmic Rays on Devine Street is more of a comic book shop but also sells CDs, vinyl, movies, video games and more.

Across social media, others are mourning Manifest’s demise and remembering its glory days.

Allen Johnson posted, “That’s terrible! I’ve spent so many hours in there. So much history of the Columbia music scene has taken place there.”

Will Camino shared this: “I loved the original manifest. I hopped a bus as a middle schooler to go meet the ramones at the downtown store. ... So many good memories from that store.”

Many others shared stories about Manifest being a place that provided them with an outlet they didn’t have in whatever part of South Carolina they were from.

Bickel said working at the store “was some of my most fun times ever.”

“I’m sad to see it go for what it once was,” he said.

Manifest Discs and Tapes Jeffery Minnish