And then there were four.
Music Makers, Bend’s primary purveyor of high-end acoustic instruments such as Taylor and Eastman guitars and one of five musical instrument stores in the city, closed its doors on Dec. 7. The store, owned by Dan McClung, announced its closing sale Nov. 21.
But the store was nearly bare by Nov. 30, save for a handful of acoustic guitars on the wall facing the register and a bevy of ukuleles behind the register itself. The posters advertising past Moon Mountain Ramblers shows were still hanging on the walls, a testament to the owner’s long history in Bend’s music scene (McClung is the long-running acoustic band’s bassist, and turned Music Makers into a museum of sorts with the memorabilia he collected over the years).
“Joe (Schulte) of the Ramblers has dedicated New Year’s Eve at his house for the Music Makers retirement party,” McClung said. “I’ll share the posters then; we’ll divide them up.”
McClung, 66, planned to retire this year after owning Music Makers for 15 years. Before that, he owned a piano store, The Piano Shoppe, on Wilson Avenue for another 15 years, from 1987 to 2002 (the building, which McClung had built for him, now houses Ageia Health Services).
A native of Fort Worth, Texas, McClung was drawn to music at an early age and started piano lessons as a third-grader. He moved to trumpet in fifth grade, guitar in sixth grade and finally standup bass, his main instrument, as a young adult.
But professionally, he remained focused on piano, becoming a piano tuner in 1979. He moved to Bend in 1984 and worked for Music Village tuning and selling pianos for three years.
“At the time, I guess Music Village was the only (music) store,” he said. “They were what we call a full-line store, so they had pianos. … They did all the guitars, amplifiers, print music, keyboards, pianos, repairs. They did repair band and orchestral instruments, but they weren’t selling (them). They went out of business in the early ’90s, so there was a real lack of (stores). And I started The Piano Shoppe, so I took care of that.”
The changing landscape of the music business led McClung to close The Piano Shoppe and refocus his efforts on stringed instruments. “Sales of homestyle pianos began to plummet when digital pianos got better and better,” he said.
McClung opened Music Makers with the intention of selling high-end acoustic instruments. If he had not scored dealership rights for Taylor Guitars in the city, the store might not have opened.
“In the high-end lines, it’s very territorial,” McClung said. “There’s a very large buy-in to start. You’ve gotta carry the line, and so in a town this size, there would only be one dealer, like there would only be one Fender dealer, or this, that and the other. In a metroplex like Portland, you might have different ones, because it’s a different size of town, different demographic.”
The Great Recession hit about five years after McClung opened Music Makers. He soldiered on, obtaining a loan to stay afloat through the rough years from 2008 until about 2011 or 2012.
“I’ve seen Bend boom and bust two times, and so I knew it would come back,” McClung said. “That’s why I was willing to stick with it. The hard part recently, say in the last five years or so after the recession and possibly because of it, many manufacturers of accessories now sell direct to the public online. And accessories used to be the bread-and-butter of small music stores: straps, strings, tuners, capos, all the extra things you need.”
Despite the economic downturn, McClung hired a manager, Jesse Christensen, who remained with the store until it closed. Before Music Makers, Christensen worked for Breedlove Guitars for eight years, and currently runs an online jewelry business, Stone Pony Jewelry, with his brother, Joey Christensen.
“It’s been great just getting to know a lot of people here in the community that I didn’t know before,” Christensen said of his time at Music Makers. “Having worked at Breedlove, I was in a factory work tunnel, and then once I got in a sales position and got to meet a lot of the local musicians and get to know them better, it’s just been — it’s been fun. It’s been fun getting to hear their takes on the local music community and what our little music reality is in Bend.”
Music Makers inspired loyalty among much of the city’s acoustic- and Americana-based musicians. Mark and Linda Quon of The Quons and folk band Parlour (which plays its last show Dec. 26 at McMenamins Old St. Francis School) purchased their guitars at the store. They said they aren’t sure where they will shop for musical equipment now.
“To be honest, we were very loyal to Dan and his shop,” Mark Quon said. “I’ve stepped my foot in a few other shops, but I’m trying to think who another shop is that has the variety. … I’m not sure if there’s enough (music stores) in town; I guess we’ll find out.”
McClung said he thinks Bend has enough music stores “in general,” although he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a piano store return to town or another store step in to fill the demand for high-end acoustic instruments.
“I was able to create a job that reflected my interests,” McClung said. “Even though it’s hard work and a bit of stress, I was always surrounded with the beauty of musical instruments and like-minded people, so it was all worth it.”