In Spencer, the music store finds its groove – Salisbury Post

SPENCER – The Band Attic is the kind of music store essential to local music programs in schools.

It repairs musical and orchestral instruments and operates a rental program in addition to selling instruments and supplies such as woodwind reeds. Brick-and-mortar stores that provide the services and supplies that local band and orchestra programs need are becoming increasingly rare these days.

Co-owner Keith Howe said much of the music retail business has migrated to online sales, which the store also participates in.

Howe has spent most of his career as a group principal in a public school, including directing programs at East Rowan and North Rowan high schools. Currently, he runs the store’s two stores and is a part-time group director at North Hills Christian School.

For the past two years he was teaching full-time, Howe said parents told him about finding estimates on instruments for their children or churches and repair work.

“When those stores started closing, it got more complicated,” Howe said. “And of course people were looking online, the online thing was getting more and more popular, but you didn’t know what you were looking at.”

Carl Blankenship/Salisbury Post – Co-owner Keith Howe said the store sells PRS guitars, which have proven popular.

Howe and his sons, Tyler and Andrew, obtained an LLC for the business in 2012 and opened the backyard of a local antique store to test the waters, make repairs and sell supplies. It worked well and in 2013 the store moved into its own space. Spencer’s location has been in its current storefront on Salisbury Avenue for three years, and the business has also expanded to a location in Granite Falls.

The difference between buying from a store like The Band Attic and an online-only retailer is the level of service and attention. You can buy an instrument at the store and have it repaired there. Howe said the store also makes sure its instruments are ready to sell.

Local music stores that offer extensive repair services are also crucial for high-volume customers such as schools. If a director deposits a sousaphone, the group can participate in a competition the next day; the store can get it repaired in time. The rental program is also an affordable way for families to obtain instruments for their students to use in the classroom.

Marching bands in particular put their equipment under a lot of strain, hauling equipment into the field, moving it on and off trailers, and constantly exposing it to the elements during outdoor games and competitions.

Since the store opened, Howe said, it has taken on much of the service work for local schools. He said he serves most schools in Rowan County and also picks up business from schools in surrounding counties, as it is the closest store for many of them.

The Music Mart, a longtime music store that closed, donated gear to Howe when it closed. He still has a cash register from the store.

“It was a great store,” Howe said. “Even when I was in Rock Hill, our group program was doing business here with the Salisbury store.”

The family knows brick-and-mortar retail is a tough business these days, but Howe said they decided to have no fear and keep going.

“We probably went bankrupt three or four times. We just weren’t smart enough to know. So we kept going,” Howe said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, last year was the store’s best, and it’s also ahead of what it was this time last year.

The Howes expected business to slow down, but they barely managed to keep the instruments in stock. Guitars, drum kits, keyboards and ukuleles are all selling like hotcakes. This is partly due to a desire to find new hobbies during the pandemic.

“On the ukulele side, a lot of parents bought them,” Tyler said. “It’s something kids can do. I have asked several parents to buy one as well so they can teach their child with them.

The popularity of guitar sales has also increased. Contrary to what Tyler expected, the store sold several high-end guitars and won back loyal customers. During an interview for this story, Tyler was handing over a PRS guitar for a customer who had recently purchased a second guitar from the store.

As sales increased, however, school rentals declined. Tyler hopes school business will pick up as the pandemic subsides.

Alice P. Darby