by Jean Scherwenka, photos by Kurt Johnson
Guitars on hooks line up along the walls and down the center of the store. They provide the perfect backdrop for a jam session going on up front. A kind of social event, like stepping back into a time when shopping was fun. Where the shop owner or sales person helped inform your decision instead of pressuring it; where if something wasnt just right you could bring it back and your sales person would actually be there and remember you, and after hearing your problem would say, Well take care of that for you, not Wheres your receipt?
This is not a place where theres any pretense or pressure, says owner Wade Starck. You can come here and relax, and become educated about guitars. Ive just tried to make this a down-toearth atmosphere.
Wade grew up with five brothers in Wausau, Wisconsin. His younger brother played guitar as a teenager, and Wade liked to go with him to the local guitar shop. The owner trusted and liked Wade and took him under his wing, teaching him how to repair and play at the same time.
Wade moved to Milwaukee in 1984 and supported his college days singing telegrams in crazy costumes and doing freelance guitar repair. After graduation, he moved to San Francisco and worked in a repair shop in the back of a vintage guitar store. I envisioned opening my own place while I was in San Francisco, he says. What I really vision alive, he put a coffeemaker on a table in the front of the store and hoped for a more suitable location in the near future.
Five years later in May of 94, Wade bought the building at 3490 N. Oakland Ave. and re-created his comfortable atmosphere. Ultimately, even though I never got to have the coffee part of the business, the guitar shop became almost like a San Francisco coffee shop, he says.
vWade sees eBay as one of the biggest changes in the music business during the 17 years hes had his shop. I think a lot of stores have been hurt ultimately by eBay, if theyre more a cash-and-carry kind of business and their discount structure isnt really good. Then people are going to go wherever they can get what they want, and I think eBay has been that.
Wades business has remained steady. When sales back off, repairs become much greater, he says. People still come to me because they know that I know guitars, that everything in the store is going to be set up properly, that they can keep bringing it back if they have issues with their guitar.
One of Wades long-time customers, a UWM professor who played banjo and guitar with the big bands during the 60s in New York City, loves coming in here, Wade says. He describes my shop as the way music stores were in Manhattan in the 60s, where musicians come, bump into each other, congregate and talk about collaborating, tours; a place where kind of good things are always happening.
A lucky visitor to the store may bump into Kidd Starck, Wades friendly and talented 11-year-old son. Kidd plays clarinet and guitar, and when he was six years old he designed the shops business card that his father still uses today.
If you dont know how to play your new guitar, Wade can take care of that, too. His instructor Anthony has been with him since day one. He helped me put up pegboard, hang hooks and paint.
Riverwest Currents online edition – March, 2006