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Shop offers vintage vibes

Mike McKenzie, left, and Clay Arthur, who opened Frets N' Friends in downtown Strasburg, strum a few notes on vintage guitars sold at the store. Ryan Cornell/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

STRASBURG -- The latest shop opening up in downtown Strasburg draws its inspiration from a business in Mayberry, N.C.

Frets N' Friends -- which opened in the old Sophisticated Gifts building last week -- buys, sells and trades rare and vintage amps, guitars and other musical instruments. Owner Clay Arthur, whose financial planning office is just down the block, said the store will also offer coffee and serve as a central gathering place.

A fictional town at the heart of "The Andy Griffith Show," Mayberry was known for its quaint charm and its barbershop, where denizens often gathered.

"Floyd's Barber Shop was a place where you went and you may or may not have gotten a haircut," Arthur said, referencing the 1960s show. "But you got to talk, you got to play checkers, you got to hangout and find out the daily 'what was going on' in the small town."

Noting that many of the businesses on King Street are service-oriented, he said he wanted to create a niche space where people could spend time catching up, browsing and playing some of the guitars on the walls.

A section of Frets N' Friends sells vintage western wear, including shirts and boots from the collection of Strasburg native and honky tonk singer Danni Leigh.

Leigh's husband, Mike McKenzie, is the store manager and guitar repairman. Originally from Austin, Texas, he said he taught himself how to play guitar starting at 13 years old and has been Leigh's bassist for the past decade.

"Austin used to have a good eight solid stores that were just like this, the walls were packed with gear," he said. "And then eBay came along. Now there's two there still holding on.

"All these vintage stores were the kinds of places you would go into and sit there all day long and talk shop," he said.

On Wednesday, an array of guitars hung from the walls, including a 1954 Gibson LG 1 and a 1972 Yamaha, above a 1960s Silvertone double-twin amp and a 1959 Fender Princeton amp.

"For players, it's the stuff you want," McKenzie said. "They're all one-of-a-kind. No one else is going to have them."

Arthur said he had found the 1959 Fender amp next to a dumpster at Sandy Hook Elementary School when he was there for a baseball game. The amp, which he said is "really hard to come by," just needed a simple replacement for its electrical cord.

"Honestly, if you wanted to shop for new instruments, if you wanted a new guitar, you could shop online and get one from much cheaper than we could ever provide," he said. "But the things we're looking at are the things that have become a little more rare or unique in the marketplace."

Unlike McKenzie, Arthur got his start learning how to play the bass violin in fifth grade, competing at the state level in high school and gradually learning how to play the guitar. He said he's passionate about public schools teaching the arts.

"Shenandoah County was one of the first counties to bring music to the schools and one of the last to make a cut," he said, noting that the school system offered full-time orchestra programs before Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Arthur is equally passionate about bringing the downtown back to its former glory.

"I grew up when Strasburg had a vital main street," he said. "Anything that we can do to revitalize the downtown area is important."

He said the shop will eventually host live performances by up-and-coming musicians on its stage and can fit up to 25 people.

A grand opening of Frets N' Friends is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Where: 132 E. King St., Strasburg
When: noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Friday
Call: 540-465-2100
Online: fretsnfriends.com

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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