What can be done to save the small music stores from being pushed out by the big box stores? Well, some have proposed lengthy deep economic theories about how the big box stores are no longer in the music business but are an arm of vampire corporatism aimed at sucking the life out of all of us. The theory may be correct. We, however, have the solution and it’s apolitical. Spend your money with the local people. Support them. Sure, it may cost a bit more (often it doesn’t).
Sometimes we spend a bunch of words to say that we already know. Buying musical items is a strongly personal experience (and a lot of the fun is in the experience). One can transcend the day to day drudgery by hanging out in a locally owned, smells like wood music store. You know the place. The place where the owner asks, since you’re hanging around near lunch time, if you want a sandwich from the little deli across the street (with the understanding that you’ve gotta pay for your own food, and the owner’s too if they can talk you into it.)
One of my best guitar purchase memories happened in the Boston area. It was 1995. I was there for an educational conference (by definition a completely boring experience. . .the conference, not Boston.) I had a bit of money in my shoe and was searching for a small body acoustic six string. I’d done some research and based on that, planned a journey to Music Emporium in Lexington. I took the T from Harvard Square on the Red Line. Then transferred to a bus (Route 77) to the end of Arlington Heights Busway. A half mile walk later, I arrived at the store which seemed to be guitar heaven. There I was, a southern boy from Louisiana surrounded by people with funny accents welcoming me as if I were guest of honor at a Cochon De Lait (well, not the main guest.) After a brief, “how can we help you?” I was seated in a folding chair surrounded by an array of Lowden’s, Taylor’s, Martins, Santa Cruz, Collings, and other “boutique” brands of small acoustics. “Play all you want, let me know if there something else around you see that you want to play and I’ll bring it over.” Nobody, including me, was playing Stairway to Heaven. I never learned it and for that I am grateful.
I gravitated to a used small body Martin 000-28 and a new 000-16 cutaway. The little Lowden was the real star of the day but my shoe didn’t have enough money. I had thought I wanted a Taylor 512 but it just didn’t speak to me. On leaving, I thanked them for the time, told them I would decide overnight between the two Martins and let them know which I was going to purchase (thinking, sure, they’d heard THAT before.) I knew that the 28 was the better “investment” but the 16 spoke to me. The following morning, my pragmatic side told me to buy the 28. When I phoned, I was relieved that the 28 had been sold, my heart having been taken by the 16. I made the 10 mile journey back out and after T, bus, and foot, traded money for merchandise, then foot, bus and T, and I was back at the hotel with my new guitar for some bonding time.
After all of those years, looking back on the memories and holding that block of wonderful wood, I’m not sure if the shopping experience or the guitar speaks to me more. I do know this, I intend to keep that little mahogany Martin until they pack me up for shipping in a box marked “Return To Sender.”
So, there you have it. A bunch of words. Want to fix what’s wrong with the economy, buy from the local store and then make some music. You’re unlikely to get rich (“How do you make a small fortune playing music? Start with a large fortune.) but you’ll build fond memories that will be worthy friends on a rainy Sunday morning in Louisiana.