Corner Music Retains Nashville’s Heart and Soul

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

0515_fosterby Alisha Foster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, Callie Khouri, creator of the TV show “Nashville,” said, “One of the magical things about Nashville is just how many incredibly talented people are here and the way they support each other.”

Corner Music has been instrumental in keeping that Nashville magic alive.

“We have kind of an old-style, throwback, general-store kind of mentality,” said Todd “Toddzilla” Austin, who has worked at the music retail store for 19 years.

Customers get a sense of this mentality when they walk in, looking for an instrument.

When customers ask which guitar they should buy, “We say, ‘Pick it up, play it. It’ll tell you which one you should get,’” said Larry Garris, the store’s owner. “Music is emotional communication.”

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Larry Garris, founder of Corner Music in Nashville, Tenn., plays more than six instruments, including guitar. (Photo: Alisha Foster/Summer 2015)

Garris founded Corner Music in 1976 when he was 28. Since then, the store has solidified its status as a hub for professional and amateur musicians even as other music stores have gone out of business.

“A lot of stores like us have gone away,” Austin said. He recalled overhearing the CEO of a newly opened chain competitor saying that within a year all other music stores within a 10-mile radius would be gone. “Well, that was 10 years ago or so. We’re still here,” Austin said.

Where does Corner Music’s staying power come from?

From arrogance and ignorance – “not being smart enough to know when you’re beat,” Garris said.

Austin disagreed. He attributed the business’s success to the character of its leader.

“I’ve worked for him for almost 20 years and I have never one time seen him do anything underhanded and dishonest, even when he could do it and he knew it would benefit him greatly,” Austin said. “He’s a good businessman, but he’s a good man first of all…The musicians in this town trust him and trust us.”

Corner Music earns rave reviews from its customers. In 2013 and 2014, readers of Nashville Scene magazine rated the store the “Best Place to Buy New Musical Instruments in Nashville,” beating out larger competitors Guitar Center and Sam Ash.

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Many of the store’s customers have names that ring a bell.

“With this store you never know who’s going to walk in the door. Could be any time, any day, you just look up and oh, hi, how’re you doing?” Austin said. “It’s just the nature of the store, the nature of where we are.”

Garris added, “Keith Urban came in for years and years [before he was famous] as just a player who’d hang out and play. He came in at Christmas, and this sort of exemplifies why we like our industry. He said, ‘Wow, Larry, the store looks great.’ And I paused and I said, ‘Keith, things haven’t exactly been going bad for you, have they?’ And, dead serious, he said, ‘No, can you believe how lucky I’ve been?’”

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