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April 08, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 08, 2005

What's happening to music stores in Palo Alto? What's happening to music stores in Palo Alto? (April 08, 2005)

No local sources left for many instruments

by Sue Dremann

The closing of Draper's Music Center on California Avenue leaves a vacuum locally for those seeking to buy or rent musical instruments.

If you want to take up the saxophone, oboe or flute, you'll have to go out of town to find one. A survey of local music stores turned up a specialized selection of instruments, often for niche markets.

Draper's is only the latest in a long list of local music store closures. Music stores have been on the decline in the digital age, often the victims of high rents, a sluggish economy, chain stores and the dissolution of school band programs, according to some local merchants.

"It's sad to see one more landmark go," said Paul Price, bandleader of the Paul Price Society Orchestra, a Palo Alto group specializing in the music of Tin Pan Alley.

Price said Draper's biggest niche was renting instruments to students in school bands. He didn't know where kids would go now for musical instrument rental, but a survey of Bay Area stores indicated that Palo Altans will have to shop in Mountain View and San Mateo for many kinds of instruments.

The only music stores left in Palo Alto are Gryphon Stringed Instruments on Lambert Avenue; Palo Alto Violins on California Avenue, specializing in the rental and repair of violins, cellos, violas and basses; and Carries Piano Co. in Town and Country Shopping Center.

At Gelb Music in Redwood City, store manager David Vogel said they won't be renting band instruments. And anyone looking for flutes, oboes or other wind or orchestra instruments won't find them there either.

"We're a rock 'n' roll shop. We sell what we know," he said.

At Gryphon Stringed Instruments, co-owner Richard Johnston has seen a parade of music store closures, including Swain's House of Music on University Avenue, which closed in 1995; Guitars Unlimited in Menlo Park; Dana Morgan in downtown Palo Alto; La Fosse, which specialized in violins; and Stanford Music on El Camino in Palo Alto, which closed in the late '80s. Melody Lane, the downtown Palo Alto 1920s-era sheet music store, went out of business in 2000.

Johnston attributed the demise of local music stores to the rise in chain stores like the Guitar Center (in San Jose), cutbacks on music and arts budgets in schools and high rents.

"One thing you see with downtown locations is that it's difficult to have lesson studios with high rents. We consider it essential for music stores to survive. It's hard to have a space for lessons unless you charge $100 per hour -- a rate close to what a psychiatrist charges," he said.

Gryphon is in a good position because "we chose to be out of the downtown area -- to be a destination store rather than one you pass on the street." The 35-year-old store has a strong customer loyalty, with generations learning to play stringed instruments, such as electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, harp dulcimer and ukulele -- which is extremely popular now, he said.

"We're a music town square," Johnston said. "Many times kids taking group lessons here are coming to where their parents met when they took lessons."

E-mail Staff Writer Sue Dremann at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Where to get musical instruments:

Carries Piano Co., 73 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto; (650) 328-3283; Digital and acoustic pianos.

Drum World, 1220 5. El Camino Real, San Mateo; (650) 572-9900; Percussion instruments.

Gryphon Stringed Instruments, 211 Lambert Ave., Palo Alto; (650) 493-2131; Guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, dulcimers, harp; group lessons.

Haight Ashbury Music 151 W. Washington Ave., Sunnyvale; (408) 732-8490; Woodwinds, strings, percussion, electronics, ethnic instruments.

Palo Alto Violins 345 California Ave., Palo Alto; (650) 327-8465; Rents, repairs violins, cellos, violas, basses and their bows; Makes violins, cellos and violas.

Sonica Music Co. 260 Castro St., Mountain View; (650) 965-8485; School band rentals, guitars, amps, drums, strings, brass instruments, full line of instruments, sheet music.

West Valley Music 1350 Grant Road, Mountain View; (650) 961-1566; Sheet music, rentals, sales, woodwinds, strings, brass instruments, school band instrument rental.

Wollmer's Music 225 E. Ave., San Mateo; (650) 343-2788; School rental program; pianos, guitars, keyboards, percussion.

Sheet music:

Music Music Music 60 N. Winchester Blvd., Santa Clara; (408) 985-9677.


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