Owner Will Burgin believes community outreach with music caused Guitars Etc. to be designated one of the top 100 music instrument and product dealers of the year by the National Association of Music Merchants.
The award was presented during the association’s celebration ceremony in Nashville, Tenn.
“We do a lot of community activity. … We make a difference in our community,” said Burgin, who opened Guitars Etc. in Athens three years ago.
“Part of our vision is to offer incredible instruments, learnable lessons and music for life for Athens and the surrounding community as well as anywhere else we may open stores,” Burgin said. “We’re looking at opening future stores.”
There weren’t any music stores in Athens, but there were a lot of people “we knew would want to learn music” when Guitars Etc. opened in the town, Burgin said. The Athens store represents an expansion of a business by the same name started by his father 30 years ago in Canton and later relocated in Kilgore.
Burgin also owns the PureBody Nutrition store in Tyler.
The Athens store sells instruments, but Burgin said the majority of its business is music lessons in guitar, bass, drums, violin, piano, mandolin, banjo, voice, metal steel guitar and ukulele.
As examples of the store’s community involvement, Burgin cited an “open mic” event it staged at Athens General Store and performance by artists from the store at chamber of commerce events. During the open mic, the store set up sound equipment for anyone who showed up to perform in public.
“What makes us different is that we do understand that we can make a difference in people’s lives with music,” Burgin said.
When a student with a negative outlook and personal problems developed a high self-esteem and better outlook on life after starting music lessons at Guitars Etc., Burgin realized “we are here for a lot more purpose than just instrument sales and service.”
Burgin estimated Guitars Etc. has about 80 students in private and group classes in Athens.
“They are taking more than just lessons; they are taking something that will be with them for the rest of their life,” Burgin said.
About 50 percent of the students are adults, many of whom have learning to play the guitar on their “bucket list” of things they want to do before they kick the bucket, Burgin said.
“They are great students; they are awesome people,” Burgin said, revealing some have given him business advice.
The retailer has about a half dozen music teachers, some of whom are independent contractors and some are teachers and sales personnel for the store.
“Guys who work here have a true love of music and a true love of sharing music and getting music to students,” Burgin said.
Guitars Etc. sells, buys and repairs instruments. “We mostly concentrate on entry to mid-level instruments,” Burgin said.
The 2,600-square-foot store has a display room, four studios including a drum lesson room and a piano lesson room, plus a group classroom.
Guitars Etc. also conducts group classes off-site at Cain Center.
The store also has a stage in back used for “open mic and jam” usually once a month for the community.
“That’s one of the other things we do for our students and the community. We do it not only as an outreach to show the community what our students can do but also it’s neat,” Burgin said.
At one session, a 10-year-old boy got to perform with a grown professional harmonica player.
“We’re always looking for different ways for people that want to team up and help spread music,” Burgin said.
He wants to add instructors next year in trumpet, flute, clarinet, brass and woodwinds and eventually grow into a “mini Athens orchestra” in the next two to five years.
In another thrust, Guitars Etc. works with schools. “We greatly reduced the cost of a drum set to help Athens Middle School get a drum set,” Burgin said. “We help different elementary school music programs get instruments. The earlier we can get kids involved in music, the better they do in school and the better their grades are.”
The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.