Two local shops sell, rent school band instruments

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

The shop local movement in Rowan County now includes tubas.
Parents of budding musicians don’t have to go far this year to buy or rent the clarinet, trombone, saxophone or, for some poor souls, the drum their child has begged for and pledged to practice.
The Band Attic in Spencer and Guitars USA in downtown Salisbury, both new retail shops, are selling and renting new and refurbished band instruments, as well as accessories like reeds, straps and slide oil. They also both offer quick turnaround on repairs and reconditioning.
Journey Kellis, 11, recently took her best friend Caroline Nance to the Band Attic at 109 A 5th St. in Spencer to pick up a clarinet. The girls both attend North Hills Christian School and have started band class for the first time as sixth graders.
Keith Howe, who owns the Band Attic and also teaches band at North Hills, last year demonstrated a variety of instruments for his students.
Caroline chose the flute, and Journey was drawn to the clarinet.
“I liked the way that one sounded, and I liked putting it together,” Journey said.
Woodwinds like flutes and clarinets are popular this year, said Howe, who has sold 25 saxophones this summer.
“Last year, we couldn’t give away a clarinet or saxophone,” he said. “Everybody wanted trumpets and trombones.”
Howe opened the Band Attic last year inside another business. This marks his first year with his own storefront. He has sold out of refurbished clarinets three times this summer and hasn’t even hit what he anticipates will be the busiest week of the year, starting Monday.
After retiring as a public school band director in 2013, Howe opened the Band Attic. He had been quietly selling new and refurbished instruments for years with no advertising or retail location, and his business was growing.
When he retired from the school system, musicians, band directors and former students encouraged him to open a band instrument store. Through the years, he had formed relationships with manufacturers and is now licensed to sell dozens of brands. Howe estimates he has sold more than 250 horns this summer.
He does minor repairs in his shop and takes major jobs twice a week to a high school buddy in Rock Hill with a larger operation. Howe recently completed repairs and reconditions for the Livingstone College marching band, including nearly all the brass and a half-dozen saxophones.
Howe teaches two days a week at North Hills, where he has grown the band program to 22 beginners, 20 seventh and eighth graders and 11 high school students.
He also sells stringed instruments like violins and violas and is adding a new line of professional-quality instruments.
Both the Band Attic and Guitars USA offer rent-to-own contracts. Rent payments, which start at about $20 a month, go toward the purchase of the horn, or parents can buy the instrument outright and often get a discount.
Band instruments make up about 20 percent of Guitars USA’s business, co-owner David Brown said.
Guitars USA is a Music & Arts affiliate, giving the shop access to more than 30,000 instruments in a warehouse in Burlington. Brown said he also keeps about 50 different types of horns in the Salisbury store on a regular basis.
“Within a day or two, we can get a French horn, bass clarinet or bari sax,” he said. “That’s why we are part of the program.”
Many parents choose to rent an instrument before buying to see if their child will stick with band class, Brown said. Buying a band or orchestra instrument can run from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
By law, all used instruments must be sanitized before they can be resold. Guitars USA has a large service department in the company’s headquarters in Lexington, where technicians recondition, clean, restring and repair all instruments before they hit the sales floor. Repairs take about three days.
Parents who buy a used instrument from Craigslist or a yard sale may think they are getting a good deal until their child’s band director says the horn needs $200 in repairs.
“You can run into huge nightmares doing that,” Brown said.
Parents renting one instrument can move the equity they’ve built up to another instrument if their child started on one horn like the trumpet but then switches to something else, like the trombone or baritone.
Guitars USA also sells stringed instruments, including half and three-quarter size violins, as well as accessories for all types of music making.
“We stock over 200 guitars along and we are known more for guitars, but we are totally a full-service music store,” Brown said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.