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After 50 years in business, it's taps for Fort Wayne's family-owned Mr. Music store. Owner Dave Ostermeyer will even make you a very good deal on the bugle.
“It's an ego blow, definitely, to have to put the kibosh to something Dad built up,” said Ostermeyer, whose shop at 10514 Coldwater Road will bow to an evolving marketplace by ceasing retail operations following a sale that will begin Monday and continue through Aug. 25. “But it is what it is: Fort Wayne has the nicest music store in the country (Sweetwater Sound Inc.), and there's nothing in my shop you can't buy online at my price.”
Competition from the Internet has challenged many industries, newspapers included, but small full-service music shops have been especially hard-hit. Budget cuts have reduced sales or rentals to school music programs, and online customers avoid the sales taxes Ostermeyer and other retailers have no choice but to collect.
“There's just no denying the Internet has taken a huge bite,” Ostermeyer said, referring to a story in the current issue of The Music Trades Magazine reporting that six of the 10 largest U.S. music dealers limit themselves to online sales. Number three on that list is Sweetwater, which operates online but also has a large store at its headquarters at 5501 U.S. 30 W, and had estimated 2011 revenues of $220 million.
Although it's possible Mr. Music will offer on-line sales in the future, the plan for now is to limit the business to music lessons for its 150 students, piano moving and, possibly, instrument repair. And if that doesn't sound like enough business to live on, well, it isn't – which is why one full-time and two part-time employees will lose their jobs.
So will their boss.
“I'll have to find another line of work. And who wants to change careers at 46?” Ostermeyer said.
But apart from being annoyed by the unfairness of the Internet sales-tax exemption, Ostermeyer exhibits no bitterness and even a certain amount of relief that the struggles of the past few years are coming to an end, to be followed by a challenges and opportunities still to be identified.
Ostermeyer hoped a change of location would boost sales, which is why he moved the shop north from its previous location on North Anthony Boulevard in 2007. But the hoped-for boost in school sales never materialized. Now, ironically, Mr. Music's last retail sales may be on line: Anything left in the shop when the sale ends – everything from guitars to drums to trumpets to cellos – may end up on eBay, he said.
Ostermeyer's refusal to panic is a testament to his religious faith but also to his understanding of family history. When his father, Walter, started the business in Decatur in the 1950s, it sold records. In fact, photos on the store's walls show Walt Ostermeyer with the likes of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. The store also sold electronics and phonograph equipment, and I remember the day my parents bought a huge TV-radio-record-player console from Mr. Music – something you would see today only in a museum.
In other words, changes in technology and customer tastes caused Mr. Music's evolution into primarily a retail instrument store, just as those same forces have now led to yet another change. Ostermeyer doesn't necessarily like it, but neither does he question it – or want politicians to prevent it.
“I really did enjoy the business when we were doing OK, " he said. “But this sort of (change) is natural. The stress had become immense,” he said.
But in the best American tradition, Ostermeyer would prefer to spare his children similar discomfort.
“I was clueless about the Internet until it hit,” he said. “My career advice to my kids is to not get into something you can download – something like a dentist or plumber.”
Not even bugles, it seems, are immune. Because of a shortage of musicians for military funerals, the Pentagon several years ago approved use of a push-button that plays taps all by itself. You don't even have to pucker.
Like Ostermeyer said: It is what it is. But as the composer of your own life's symphony, the tone of the work – an ode to joy, dirge or swan song – is mostly up to you. Ostermeyer, for one, is determined to find a positive note.