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April 29, 2010

 

Ultimate Music readies for its closing act

Main Street music store will close its doors Saturday following recent death of co-owner

GuitarJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Musician and guitar maker Michael Edwards of Cortland browses the electric guitars on display Tuesday at Ultimate Music.

By J.D. THRASHER
Staff Reporter
jthrasher@cortlandstandardnews.net

Ultimate Music will close on Saturday after the death of one of its owners in March, the second closure of a Main Street business that brought musicians together and supported the Cortland music scene.
A store known for its expansive guitar stock has about 20 guitars left on its wall, all discounted.
Lucky’s, a music bar where people could watch live shows, closed last month. For years, Lucky’s created an atmosphere where musicians could find common ground and enjoy each other’s talent.
The loss of Lucky’s created a void in the local music scene; now the same is happening with Ultimate Music, said Matt Barnes, a senior employee at the store.
Barnes’ father, Steve Barnes, co-owned Ultimate Music with Lonnie Park, a local musician. The shop opened in 1992. It was originally located on Route 13 in South Cortland, but moved to Main Street in the early 2000s, where it has remained.
In March, Steve Barnes died of complications related to a stroke.
Park said the closure was prompted by both the economy and Steve Barnes’ death.
Sales at the shop were declining, and it faced competition in the form of mp3 players and downloadable music, but the death of a business partner and friend was the tipping point of the stress, said Park.
Park and the late Barnes had planned to discuss what to do with the business in June, since they noticed profit margins dropping.
Park said his customers were loyal, and most became friends.
Musicians from all over the world sent their condolences when they learned of Barnes’ death. In the middle of the store stands a table with sympathy cards and a photo of Steve Barnes. To Park, that signifies the lives that will be affected by the store’s closing.
“I’m really depressed,” said Mike Edwards, a guitarist, who bought many of his instruments and accessories from Ultimate Music, about the store’s closing.
“When I was in my teens I had a band, Fusion,” said Edwards, who spent part of Tuesday looking for a guitar case for his teenage daughter.
Edwards says his band relied heavily on the resources provided by Ultimate Music.
Park said members of the local music community have been instrumental in the shop’s success.
“I want to give a huge thank you to the music community for supporting us for 18 years,” said Park, who said he will miss the random jam sessions and talks that regularly filled the store. The store created a haven for musicians to bring their music and ideas and share them with like-minded individuals.
In 2007, a guitar player walked into Ultimate Music and began talking about the need to form a band. The guitarist needed to find players and didn’t know where to look. Another person in the store wanted to form a band. The two talked, and in front of store managers and customers, a band was formed.
It might have been coincidence, said Barnes, but the likelihood of being able to find resources is high in a tight network of musicians.
Ultimate Music has offered music lessons, instrument repairs, and, if nothing else, conversation.
Closing the doors has been a swift move for Barnes since his father’s death early last month. The tight economy has prompted consumers to view some items as unnecessary or frivolous, said Barnes, who plays in the band Tom Fury.
“Instruments are a luxury factor,” said Barnes, adding chains like Guitar Center and online retailers made it extremely difficult to make a profit and pay a five-member staff.
But the competition also has been a contributing factor to the cohesiveness Cortland musicians share.
Barnes said if the shop needed an instrument, they could call Harrington Brothers Music across the street to see if they had it. And if Harrington’s needed something and Ultimate Music had it, they would trade. Friendly competition existed, but it was the camaraderie of the stores which was beautiful, he said. Calls to Harrington Brothers were not returned .
Barnes said he does not know what will happen to leftover instruments and accessories.
Park is certain his customers will still be able to rely on the close-knit community they have been involved in, without Ultimate Music. It is not the shop that held everyone together, but the musicians themselves, said Park, who plays in the bands Ten Man Push and Johnny and Lonnie.
“I assure customers and friends, this is not the end of the world, just the beginning of a new chapter,” he said.
Park will continue to play in his band and do audio consulting from his home office, and Barnes will continue to play in his band and run a recording studio in the basement of the building where Ultimate Music is housed.

 

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