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May 16, 2013

Music store is all in the family

By Richard Whitby Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The beat is going on at the Walton Music House, a village music store that has been operated by the same family since 1957.

A third generation, Nate Jamieson, is preparing to take the baton from his father, Larry, whose father, Arthur, passed it along to him.

“I came to work for my dad in 1985 and started buying him out about a year later,” Larry said. “I guess I became the official owner somewhere around ‘87-’88.”

Nate, a 2000 Walton graduate, and his wife Tara moved back home this year from Seattle where he was working union AV and rigging gigs, to learn and gradually take over and buy out the business. And, as his dad did, he brings his own ideas to the business.

“We just started a Facebook page, maybe three or four weeks ago,” he said this week.

The father and son team also is working on improving the store’s internet sales.

“We’ve done some internet sales,” Larry said, adding that he’s bought and sold about 250 items on eBay.

But right now, “I’ve got just kind of an informational website,” he said.

Together, they plan to change that.

“We want to replace (the current Web page) with one that’s really got pictures of the stock that we carry,” Nate said.

“We’ll have a shopping cart,” he added. “You can either use a credit card or PayPal. You can look at and buy things.”

Identifying a need is exactly how the business got started.

“My dad was a high school band director in Walton, and the reason he started his business was his students didn’t have anyplace to buy oil and grease and wires and things like that that they needed,” Larry said.

The store is in its third location since its founding in a house on Townsend Street. It now occupies a standalone store at 153 North St.

A lot has changed during the intervening years, Larry said.

“When I was a kid, there was a very vibrant downtown retail area,” he said. “All of the stores were full, and on Friday nights they were all open until 9 o’clock.”

The business has changed, too, he said.

“I know when the Beatles arrived, guitar sales when right through the roof,” he said. “And there were two major American companies at the time, Kay and Harmony, that produced guitars like crazy.

“That fad started to die down, and the Japanese started making and exporting cheaper guitars, and I think both of those things ultimately led to the demise of Kay and Harmony.”

Kay Musical Instrument Co. closed in 1968, and the Harmony Co. closed in 1975, after producing about 10 million guitars in the preceding 30 years.

“Now, there’s no inexpensive guitars made in the United States,” Larry said.

But the Walton Music House goes on, selling, repairing and, perhaps most importantly, renting instruments.

“We get some local business, but if I had to live on walk-in strings, guitars, that kind of thing, I would have been gone 15 years ago,” Larry said. “What really keeps me going is band and orchestra instrument rentals, and so far there’s not a whole lot of people doing that on the Internet.”

Rentals are a key facet of the business, but so is the business the store does with school districts and their student musicians. Those arts programs are often soft targets for budget cutters, something to which Nate takes exception.

“Arts programs are as good, if not better, for development,” he said, comparing them to athletics.

“I guess the target groups we’re not tapping are the towns we’re not in,” he said. “We do parent nights with … school districts now, but if you draw a 50-mile radius around the area, there’s another 15 or 17 school districts that we don’t do direct business with most of the time. So we need to get back in there.”

In addition to selling instruments, playing those instruments has played a role in all three Jamiesons’ lives.

Arthur was not only a band director, he was a working musician, his son said.

“He played with the Catskill Symphony and the Oneonta Community Band and various dance bands and square-dance bands, Larry said. “He played anything and everything.”

Larry plays the steel guitar in Country Express, a long-running fixture on the regional country music scene. The playing of music hasn’t skipped the new generation either. Larry’s younger son, Danny, plays rhythm guitar and sings in a local band called Cardboard Cutouts. His daughter, middle child Lauren, now lives near Buffalo and plays bass clarinet in a German band. Nate studied musical theater at SUNY New Paltz. Since moving back he has picked right up with his old choir at United Presbyterian Church in Walton. 

“I’m a vocalist, and I play the euphonium, and I play the guitar adequately,” Nate said.

“We’re going to teach him the other instruments before I leave,” Larry said.