Musicians Aid in Sustaining Local Music Shop

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_noblesby Wilborn P. Nobles III

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The strumming of guitars and the aroma of wood greet customers who enter the Corner Music shop.

Three of the shop’s four walls are covered in guitars ranging in color, shape and size. A Corner Music employee, Todd “Toddzilla” Austin, stands behind a register and describes the merchandise to customers.

Musicians familiar with the shop say it is the professional gear, employees, locality and owner Larry Garris that keeps them and their engineers coming back to buy musical instruments and audio equipment.

“The musicians in this town trust him and trust us, and we’ve taken care of them for a long time,” Austin says. “They know we have a reputation.”

Nashville’s music community supports mom and pop music stores like Corner Music in the face of competition from big chain stores like Wal-Mart, says Austin, who has worked at the shop for almost 19 years. He says he doubts Corner Music could survive in a location other than the Music City.

“Because Nashville has the community, and 95 percent of the people in this city play music, it gives us the ability to…carry things a lot of shops couldn’t carry elsewhere,” Austin says.

He also credits the shop’s success to the hard work of Garris.

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Larry Garris, owner of Corner Music in Nashville, Tenn., strums his guitar in his office. (Photo: Wilborn P. Nobles III/Summer 2015)

A self-proclaimed “Jack of all, master of none” in guitar, piano, flute, saxophone and trumpet, Garris decided to open the store because he had been traveling and lacked a steady girlfriend.

“I didn’t want to travel and I wanted to meet a local girl,” he says with a laugh.

He previously studied fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology at North Carolina State University while working at a music store. His employer offered to pay him double what he would have earned at the state Department of Conservation, and Garris remained at the shop.

Then, at age 28, he sold everything he owned to start his own music store. He later met a bank teller and singing waitress named Mary VanBuskirk, whom he married 37 years ago. They have two sons, Ben and Kirk. All three family members work with Garris at Corner Music, and Garris says that his wife, who is the store’s financial executive, is the reason he is still in business.

Musicians who frequent Corner Music become a part of its community, and employees paint musicians’ names on an upper wall in a corner of the store. The wall displays about 320 names, including that of country music singer Brad Paisley, Garris says.

Paisley briefly worked at Corner Music, but Garris says employees never revealed that to customers until the country musician mentioned it in his book “Diary of A Player.”

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Customers stand near the Corner Music shop on a May afternoon. (Photo: Wilborn P. Nobles III/Summer 2015)

With a staff of 18, Garris attributes his success to hiring young people like Joel Dobbins, who signed on in high school and is now the store’s recording department manager.

“We’ve been successful because we’re just good at what we do and (we give) people what they need,” Dobbins says.

Dobbins bought his first bass from Garris and went on to play in a jazz band. These days, he plays at a church alongside his son, a drummer.

Dobbins is not the only musician at Corner Music. Austin leads two bands, including a 20-piece funk band with horns and go-go dancers that he describes as “a circus onstage.”

In addition to serving musicians, Garris sells audio and video systems to churches and schools. Teachers walk into an audio room to turn the system on and play a CD or Bluetooth, and they can control the volume with their cellphone.

“It’s amazing, the technology,” Garris says. “And we have to stay on top of it.”

Employees attend audiovisual technology conferences such as InfoComm International every year to keep abreast of advances.

His advice to customers looking to buy a guitar is to pick one up at Corner Music and play it to decide if it feels right for them.

“Music is emotional communication,” Garris says. “It is communicating emotion, and that’s the way we work.”

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