G&M Music has sound of success

Rob Gaines looks at sheet music. G&M Music has a large collection of sheet music. Tom Crosby/Daily

Like a classic symphony maintaining its appeal, the G & M Music store in Winchester is celebrating its 80th birthday this year, with the third generation of the family humming a song of success.

Robert “Bob” Gaines Jr., 74, took over from his father 37 years ago and has bequeathed day-to-day operations to his son, Robert “Rob” Gaines III, 40.

Packed with pianos, file cabinets stuffed with sheet music, empty music carrying cases, guitars, amplifiers and accessories, the store is a bonanza for music teachers and students.

Bob Gaines credits the store’s longevity to “taking care of our customers, that’s number one. We take a sort of laid-back approach, no pressure and I look at someone coming into the store as someone coming into your home.”

The music store business peaks in August and September when students join bands or begin lessons after summer ends.

Bob Gaines, of G&M Music in Winchester, makes repairs to a violin. Tom Crosby/Daily

G & M makes it easy for parents who are nervous about buying a musical instrument for a teenager who may not be bitten by the music bug.

“Parents aren’t as sure about it as the kid is,” he laughed, “so we rent to own. It costs $25.99 a month and after a year they can return the instrument and there is no more obligation.”

Schools in Warren, Frederick and Clarke counties and the City of Winchester have bands and “about 90 percent of those who sign up stay in the band,” Bob Gaines said.

The store began as a partnership between his father and a man named Marshall Miles in 1937 in a downtown store on Boscawen Street. Within a year, Miles left but his initial on the store name remained.

In 2000, the need for more space prompted a move to the Blue and Gray Mall at 2640 Valley Ave., where more space is needed today.

When they moved, “We had to give up selling drums because they take up so much space,” said Bob Gaines.

The store has been a certified Yamaha dealer since the mid-1970s.

Today the sounds of a concert grand piano have been duplicated by digital pianos, like Yamaha’s Clavinova, a thinner upright piano that has become popular as a way to determine a student’s interest.

“Eighty percent of today’s pianos are digital,” said Bob Gaines. “Although the reconditioned piano market isn’t bad.

“Like many small businesses today, the main competitor is the internet. “It affects every part of our business,” he said.

In 2006 with his father aging and a possibility of the store closing or being sold, “I said I would come in and bring the business into the 21st century,” said Rob Gaines.

“There was a generational gap with the internet and the way things are sold these days,’ Rob said. “We keep up with Facebook and Google.”

Rob didn’t see himself in the family business at first, graduating from the University of Virginia in 1999 with a bachelor of art’s degree in biology and a minor in sociology, he lived in Charlottesville for a while working for an ophthalmologist.

The move has stuck.

“There’s nothing like being your own boss,” he said, “and it’s nice to see your father every day.”

He has learned “the ins and outs, the nuances and there is something to be said for seeing people in your community every day,” like area music teachers who are regular customers.

“Our selling point has been doing the right thing (for our customers) the right way for 80 years,” he said, with printed sheet music – the rubric of music learning – the biggest seller

“It turns the register,” he said, noting no other store sells sheet music within 30 miles.

“And if you need it, you can come in and walk out with it, while the internet can’t get it to you for two to three days,” he said. And pianos aren’t compatible with the internet, he noted.

“You can’t sit down and play it on the internet,” he said. “You want to sit down and hear it before you spend $40,000.”

And music accessories – from amplifiers to lubricants – attract repeat customers.

Nelson Breland, 60, retired from the FBI but now a part-time school bus driver, recently stopped in to buy a bottle of Blue Juice, which he uses to lubricate the valves on his tuba, which he plays in various musical groups.

“I come in a couple of times a year,” Breland said, who lives in Martinsburg. “It’s one of the few stores in the area and if the tuba breaks I can bring it here.’

The music business suffered in 2008 when the recession hit.

“What we sell is not something you have to have, it’s something you can put off buying until times get better,” Bob Gaines said.

The store “isn’t much into guitars,” he noted, but he does do minor repairs of guitars and violins.

He became general manager in 1980.

“I got to like it,” he said, “We make a living but not a killing.”

“You have to be innovative in finding a way to make a buck,” he said, like letting music teachers school students in his office and then the students often becoming future customers.

“It’s a people business,” Bob Gaines said. “Its also unique because music is an international language.”

Contact Tom Crosby at news@nvdaily.com