, Salem, MA

November 7, 2012

Drumming up business

Local music shops have been dying out, but young couple hopes to buck the trend

The Salem News

---- — BEVERLY — Nathan Morrison was driving along Rantoul Street when he saw a sign that caught his eye — Joe’s Drum Shop.

As a drummer who worked in a drum shop in Maine, Morrison knew how rare it was to see a local music store. He stopped his car, walked up to the door and saw that it was closed.

“I thought it was a shame,” he said.

He soon learned that the shop’s longtime owner, Joe Winokur, had died in 2008 and the shop had closed in 2010. He contacted Winokur’s widow, Ellen, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Morrison and his wife purchasing the business.

On Oct. 13, the store reopened as The Drum Shop North Shore. And with it, the Morrisons took on the daunting challenge of running a local music store in a changing industry.

“It’s survival of the fittest,” said Larry Ouellette of Paul Ouellette & Sons Pianos in Salem. “The smaller you are, the less likely you are to survive.”

The biggest challenges facing local music stores come from large national chains like Guitar Center and from online sales. Donn Carr ran a drum shop in Peabody for 35 years but had to shut it down due to competition from Guitar Center and Daddy’s Junky Music.

Carr said he could match the prices of the big stores but not the inventory.

“They would have what I had in every color and every size,” he said. “I had a good price, and the customer would compare it to Guitar Center. They would match the price and would have it in stock, while I had to order it. I couldn’t handle that.”

Carr reinvented his business as the Donn Carr School of Music & Performance Center, where he offers lessons in guitar, bass, drums and piano. Selling instruments is only a small part of his business.

Paul Ouellette & Sons Pianos has been in business since 1946 and is run by the founder’s sons, Larry and Ron. Larry Ouellette said business is tougher these days because many public schools have cut their music programs, leaving the industry with fewer potential customers.

“The older generation is downsizing and getting rid of their pianos, trumpets and violins because there’s nobody taking it up,” he said. “When I got home from school, you used to sit down and practice the piano for half an hour. Now the kids come home, and they sit down at the computer.”

Ouellette cited last year’s closing of Ted Cole’s Music Shop, which had been a landmark in downtown Salem for more than 50 years, as an example of the changing times.

“That was an institution,” he said.

The Morrisons are well aware of the obstacles they face in their new venture. Nathan Morrison, 27, said local music stores must embrace the Internet if they want to survive. Online sales will encompass as much as 65 percent of his business at The Drum Shop, he said.

Morrison is also partnering with his former employer, The Drum Shop in Portland, Maine, to reduce the cost of shipping equipment to his store.

The last few months have been a whirlwind for the Morrisons. They graduated from college last summer (Nathan from the University of Southern Maine, Marissa from Gordon College), got married in July, and opened the store in October.

“It’s not going to be for lack of trying if we go down,” Nathan said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make this a cool drum shop for people.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or