People’s Music in Sevastopol closes its doors after almost 50 years

After nearly 50 years, People’s Music – a quaint shop on Sevastopol’s main street where many locals bought their first guitars or took their first banjo lessons – is closing, marking the end of an era for the community.

In a market that values ​​the convenience of music streaming and online shopping, Alex Bryant and Laurie Meade, co-owners of Main Street’s oldest company, decided it was time to face reality and move on. their online store.

Their last business day at the physical location is August 31.

“It was a struggle. Rent keeps going up, margins keep going down and we can’t compete with the internet at this point,” said Meade, 60.

The store was more than a place to buy new instruments and take music lessons. It was also a second home for a variety of local and regional musicians, known and unknown, like Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Steve Kimock, Les Claypool and others who just love playing music.

“This store is a music community,” Bryant, 60, said. “It’s inspiring to hear why people come to the store and to see people’s reactions to the instruments.

“We will miss it,” he added.

People’s Music was founded in 1973 as a record store by original owners Jane and Duane Phillips. In 1986 Bryant’s father, Bo, a four-string banjo player who ran a music store in San Rafael for many years, bought the store and expanded it, adding more musical instruments to the store’s collection.

In 2015, Bryant and his wife, Laurie Meade, decided to take over and operate the store with their son, Ryan, and longtime employees Chris Carney, Hoytus Rolen and Mark Hogan.

In addition to juggling the time and energy they devote to their store, Meade and Bryant also work full time. Bryant works for a software developer and Meade is a freelance consultant for various companies.

They even dipped into their savings for a few months to keep the business going.

“It’s always been a service to the community,” Bryant said. “We are like a charity or non-profit; we are something people need, but nobody pays for it. There is not enough business to support this store.

After their lease ends in December, he plans to move the items from the store to a barn, where he will continue instrument repairs. With the planned online store, they may be emphasizing their vintage and ethnic instruments, including a kora (African harp), koto (Japanese harp), and banjos, among others.

“The business will kind of exist as a clandestine, underground music store,” Bryant said.

Although a chapter closes, the show must go on. Bryant is thinking of ways to continue sales while staying connected to the store’s community — keeping the business going through pop-ups at local grower’s markets and events, offering his instrument repair services, announcing big sales on social media and continuing to answer questions about repairs or instruments by text or phone.

“We want to make the website more organic,” Bryant said. “Make it more human. I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do that yet.

One of the things Bryant will miss the most is the connections he made with customers as people peruse CDs and test drive multiple guitars at the store to find their perfect instrument.

“Not everything will translate digitally,” Bryant said. “There’s nothing like seeing a child hear something for the first time and letting people smell and play instruments before they buy it.”

Like other businesses in Sonoma County and around the world, People’s Music has been forced to temporarily close and lay off employees during the pandemic. But, according to Bryant, there was an upside.

“People have really made the effort to shop online more than ever,” Bryant said.

During the first pandemic lockdown in 2020, people started taking up new hobbies including learning to play music. Customers were picking up their orders at the store and their son Ryan was driving around Sonoma County to drop off the orders.

However, sales began to slow as COVID-19 restrictions eased and people gave up on new hobbies, Bryant said.

New chapter

The store closure affects not only long-time customers, but also employees who have dedicated their lives to People’s Music.

Carney, 74, has worked at the store for 35 years, repairing acoustic string instruments, running the store and giving music lessons. He said he expected this development but was not prepared for it.

“It’s a sad end to an era,” Carney said as he repaired a harp with missing strings in his repair room at the store. I never had to look for another job. It’s my second home.

“I will miss it very much,” he added.

On June 27, Bryant announced the store’s upcoming closure on Facebook. Fans immediately responded with notes of appreciation for People’s Music.

One of the commentators, Shannon Elsom, 49, started taking guitar lessons at the store in 2018. She bought her first electric guitar there and also learned some life lessons, she said.

“It was a place where I could be supported and explore my creativity,” said Elsom, who now lives in Michigan. “(People’s Music employee) Hoytus not only taught me how to play, he taught me life lessons. I hope this reroute will take them to beautiful places.

One of the store’s pianos, which stood outside for more than a year, turned into a meeting space for strangers and children, who painted on the piano and sprinkled fresh plants and flowers on it and around.

“The community has made it their own,” Bryant said.

Recently, the piano found a new home, in a Cazadero barn where it will be available for Airbnb travelers to play and enjoy.

“When one chapter closes, another opens,” said Hogan, 70, who started teaching at the store in 2006. “It feels more like a funeral than a layoff.”

You can reach editor Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.

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