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May 16, 2013

Music store is all in the family

(Continued)

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.”

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