How a music store owner copes with stagnant supply and high demand

Venues are starting to reopen and the live music industry is ready to go. But the stores that supply their hardware are still lagging behind.

Adam Levin is the General Manager of Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, a family-owned store in Wheaton, Maryland. He said the store was busier than ever due to the pandemic.

At the start of the lockdown, Levin said he feared the store would not survive the pandemic. He said he told other managers to cancel any orders for expensive products because he didn’t know if anything would sell.

Then the orders started pouring in.

Levin said guitars, keyboards and recording gear have been flying off the shelves during the pandemic.

“What we’ve realized is that everyone is stuck at home, there’s only a limited amount of Netflix you can watch. There’s only a limited amount of video games that you can play. People who hadn’t played in a while wanted to play something,” he said.

Demand grew so much that Levin had to send employees back to warehouses to start shipping materials while he handled customer service from home.

Adam Levin, general manager of Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, said the family shop was busier than he had ever seen it.

However, the equipment began to sell out faster than the store could replace it. Levin said high-demand instruments, like guitars, need to be finished and tested by hand to make sure every facet of the product works. When overseas factories began to close, due to the pandemic and the recent shortage of semiconductors, Chuck’s had less and less equipment to sell. Now, Levin said, his team is ordering as much as they can in bulk because shipments have slowed so much.

Demand has also not slowed since the store reopened. Now that more venues are presenting concerts, school music programs are meeting in person again, and professional musicians are resuming touring, music stores like Chuck’s are seeing even greater pressure on the few inventory they can get. Levin said there are now backorders that likely won’t be filled until next year.

One thing Levin learned during the lockdown is that music still has a place in his community.

The store “became like a playground because we were open,” Levin said. “You’re not going to hang out at the grocery store, but you’ll come hang out here. And it was pretty cool. That, you know, maybe people weren’t going to come and buy something that day, but they just had to get out of their house.

Alice P. Darby