Almost 20 years ago, my family and I took over a guitar shop business. It was a fantastic opportunity and represented some of the most rewarding, fun and enjoyable experiences I have had in retail and in my working life. It led on to other interesting music-related career opportunities, which I would never have anticipated or thought of entertaining when I was back in school planning my future. That said, it definitively came about as a result of pursuing things I had a passion for, and because of the support of my family in making the project fly. It was an exceptional decade of my working life.
During those years I came to coin a bit of a catchphrase: “There is nothing general about the general public.” Anyone who has worked in retail will no doubt relate: if you operate a specialist store which caters to a leisure- or professional-industry-level clientele, then you will become something of a beacon (of varying illumination) in your neighborhood.
As a guitar shop retailer, if you have a front door open to the public during daylight and early evening hours, you open a portal to an interesting and mysterious world of musicians and the artistically inclined. It in fact becomes something of a networked hub of exceptionally talented creatives, as well as those just looking for a place to go to hang out. We never installed a coffee machine or a couch, but I reckon that if I had put a different sign hanging on the front wall which said Free Social Care instead of Guitar Shop, it may not have looked that much different on the inside! I exaggerate – but you get the point. After all, I had started out as a Saturday boy because I too had spent so many hours hanging out in the shop that, unknown to me, would eventually become my own business.
I have lot of memorable experiences from opening my doors to the locals, and thought I’d share one of the more uncommon ones.
Our building was split over three levels: The garage, where we kept our store stock, and cardboard boxes for all the items we would ship out or sell. Then there was the basement floor, which held the majority of our bass and guitar amplification and also had a small kitchen and reasonably-sized workshop for guitar setups, repairs and general maintenance. The third level was the ground floor, which had its main entrance out on to the high street. There was no dedicated parking, just the on-street available residential spaces which were open to all after our 10 am opening time.
One day I was in the shop on my own. I had caught up with the repairs and there were no customers in the shop, so I thought I would just briefly pop down to the garage level and bring up some more stock. Taking the second set of stairs down, I encountered somebody coming up the stairs in the opposite direction who had obviously taken it upon themselves to gain entrance to the shop via the private back door, which is metal-plated, grilled and also alarmed at night. Perhaps the outer grilled door was something of an invitation to those who would allow their opportunistic streak to get the better of them during the day. It was a fire door, so we couldn’t lock it during store opening hours, and generally there was little need to as access to it was somewhat convoluted.
I asked the man coming up the stairs, “Can I help you, mate?” with something of a raised lilt to my voice, as I could see the guy looked more than sheepish about the fact that he had been spotted lurking in the stairwell. “Er…do you sell drumsticks?” was his prompt query, and part of me, for a brief moment a least, thought it was a genuine question. Although a dedicated guitar and bass shop, we did in fact stock a few other items such as popular microphones, rack gear, accessories – and a few drumsticks. I thought I’d play it cool and said, “Sure. Just follow me upstairs and I’ll show you what we have got.” He replied, “Oh great. Is it OK if I wait in the amp room?” I thought it would be fine, as he’d been rumbled and had no pressure to buy anything, and he would probably make his excuse that he didn’t want any after all and simply leave. Perhaps, though, he was a drummer. He was wearing all black, like a rocker, and looked the part.
I returned back to the amp room with a small selection of sticks for him to check out, but he was gone. I found him in the workshop, sitting on a stool with his torso slumped over the second work bench, out cold. He was totally immovable and I couldn’t get a response from him. Either he was totally hung over, on some substance or other, had a medical condition, or had been rumbled a second time; maybe he’d been continuing his scoping out of thieving opportunities and feigned unconsciousness when he had heard me descending the first flight of stairs. I just couldn’t tell. He was breathing, though, so that at least was a good sign.
I asked if he wanted any water, or in true British fashion, a cup of tea, and prodded him in the ribs a few times for good measure, but again there was no response – nada, zip, nowt, nought, nuffin’! Not easily dissuaded, I grabbed his arm and shook him back and forth (relatively gently I thought) and concluded that he needed help. At least in getting out of the shop.
Opposite our shop was a building that had a real estate office downstairs, and to the rear of it there was something related to the police as I remembered, as I’d often seen them walking in and out of that premises. I figured that if I was quick, I would be able to run over and see if there was an officer around who could help me. As it turned out, the building was a family violence response center, but they were closed. I returned to the shop, checked on Mr. Unconscious who was still out for the count, then looked up the telephone number of the closed office. As it transpired, someone was manning the phone and said they would be able to send a police officer over in the next couple of minutes.
Sure enough, a police officer soon emerged from the offices opposite and entered the guitar shop, and I related what had happened. The officer asked, “So, where is he now then?” I answered, “He’s in the workshop downstairs, dead to the world.”
The officer and I descended the stairs and turned left into the workshop, but again, the mysteriously-fainting (or feinting?) man had vanished into thin air! “Well, where is he?” the officer asked. “I don’t know where he’s gone! He was there two minutes ago completely prostrate on the table!” I exclaimed, full of disbelief while feeling like something of an idiot. We turned out of the workshop into the amp room and there he was, stood upright, hands in his pockets, looking aloof and slightly dejected at the same time, perusing the gear and pretending to ignore that we were there.
Then the police officer turned to me and said, “Excuse us for a minute please, sir. I just have a few questions for this gentleman.” The mock respect was apparent in the air as he told me, “I’ll call you if I need you, thank you.”
I dutifully traipsed upstairs, the ensuing questioning fading out of earshot. A little while later the officer returned and told me he had escorted the “dude” off the premises, and that he would probably think twice about loitering or stealing anything.
I remember only once more seeing the same chap in the high street just around the corner from our shop. We happened to make eye contact as I passed him. I think I’ll always remember the rueful look of acknowledgement he gave me as he simply said, “All right, mate?”
I was surprised at how friendly he was, and recalled thinking that would likely have been the last time he would be asking me for any drumsticks, or using the back of the shop as an entrance when my guard was down!
Ah. There’s nothing general about the general public. Everyone is unique in their very own way. Perhaps I should have installed a sofa in the first place.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.com/Pierre Prégardien.