I took a car trip yesterday. The errands I had to run took me in a particular direction, so I decided ahead of time to make a day trip of it. Honestly, I needed a dose of river, and sometimes only one will do the trick.
The journey gave me the opportunity to visit five different music stores, all of them for the first time. None were chain or franchise stores; they were all independent. I was struck by the five different experiences that I had.
The first shop I hit was a museum to the owner, even though he’s still in the store every day. Each space on the wall between the various hanging instruments was occupied by a picture of the owner with this or that famous person. The selection was not great, but I received an invitation to “play anything I like,” which I did. After that I was not spoken to again.
The second place I stopped was a shop that I will definitely visit again. It’s within an hour’s drive of my house, and they have a nice selection of good quality instruments. Again, I was welcome to play anything they had in the store, but this time I was able to have conversation as well. The fellow that was working was interested in my playing and how I learned to play thumbstyle.
We talked about the guitars and some of the other folks that visit the store. We talked about what it was like to work there. He said I should come back sometime when the owner was there. As I was leaving, he had to take a phone call but asked another guy who was working there to give me directions to my next planned stop. I left feeling like he was sincerely glad I’d dropped in.
At the third store, I was completely and totally ignored. There were high walls–six feet, still above my eye level–along the side of the raised counter area next to the door. The only person who was in the store was behind the counter on the other side of the tall barrier with his eyes glued to whatever was on his computer screen. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that anyone had come in.
The selection of guitars wasn’t great, but I found a Morgan Monroe that looked interesting. So I sat down and played it for ten or fifteen minutes. I think, had I not walked directly up to the counter as I left, that I could have entered, played, left and been completely unnoticed.
I will probably go back to the fourth store sometime, but it takes a couple of hours to drive there. The helter-skelter arrangement and the wide range in the age of the instruments gave the store a bit of a collector’s feel. It took a second entrance to feel at home there. I had already left when I noticed the OC Bear guitar in the window.
After visiting store number five, I stopped back in to ask if I could take the Bear for a spin. They remembered me, and once they realized I could play a little bit and that I had an appreciation for the instruments, it became much easier to make conversation.
If store number four felt ragtag, store number five felt sanitary. Had it not been for the few guitars in the window and on the wall, less than ten altogether, and for the table of music instruction books, it would have been hard to tell that it was a music store at all. The store was so clean and so well arrayed that I was afraid to touch anything, even though the instruments were almost entirely entry level.
It all made for an interesting and entertaining day. It reminded me that the experience of being a stranger and a visitor is always different, and yet in some ways it can be universal.