Every corner of the city center is filled with history and businesses that fostered the whimsical music community Athens is known for, though many places are just souvenirs and bar gossip now, especially afterwards. the pandemic. After 79 years of service as the oldest full-service music store in Athens, Chick Music is closing its doors on Wednesday December 15th. However, this closure is a bittersweet relief: the Shepherd family are retiring.
Lewis Chick opened Chick Music, then Chick Piano, in 1942 on Jackson Street. Chick, a blind lawyer who struggled to get clients during WWII and decided to join the music business, met Billy Shepherd at a school for the blind and hired him. In 1965, Billy and Anne Shepherd bought the business from the Chick family after Lewis’s death, and they moved the store a few years later from its Lumpkin Street location next to the Georgia Theater in Clayton Street, where it is stayed since. The Shepherd children (Van, Steve, Christy and Carol) grew up in the family business and continued to run it together alongside Anne after their father died.
Steve reflects on the fact that Chick first moved to Clayton Street, which wasn’t really a retail space at the time, and says that across the street was a brick building looking like at a barn housing a John Deere tractor dealership. Just as the downtown area has changed over the years, so has the nature of the music industry. As the name suggests, Chick Piano started out as a piano and organ store, Van says, but organs are now obsolete. As the 60s ushered in rock and roll, Chick started selling electric guitars and amps.
“Pierre Buck [of R.E.M.] bought his first guitar from my dad and we bonded with the bands in Athens when they were just starting out, âVan explains. âThe floor we opened, the first thing we got before we had recitals was that the B-52s used it for two weeks to prepare for their tour when they did the show at the Classic Center. Back to the time when [Widespread] Panic was traveling, we would send them things when they were on the road and needed something.
By the early 2000s, rental and repair of musical instruments and a course studio became part of Chick’s business model. It is currently the only music store in Athens capable of maintaining musical instruments. âWe support what we sell, and I think it’s very important for dealing with local businesses, as opposed to something on the Internet. People come with another brand of instruments that they bought on the Internet, and we can’t fix them, âsays Steve. Along with the needs of groups, the state of sheet music has been one of the biggest changes in demand. The Clayton Street store shrank to a third of its size because people weren’t buying sheet music like they used to, says Christy, and because of that, Chick started a download service.
Unfortunately, class studios have been empty since March 2020 and many teachers have set up online classes at home due to COVID. At the height of the pandemic, Chick received approval from Athens-Clarke County to open three hours a day, three days a week for curbside pickup, although it was not an “essential business”. Supply chain issues continue to plague music businesses, especially small businesses that are unable to stock up on back-up inventory. âSmall dealerships with less capital, we have less inventory, so when it’s down, you suffer quickly,â Van explains. âWe lost a lot of sales because of it. Small businesses of all types have experienced similar pain over the past two years.
As this year draws to a close, Chick Music’s lease also ends. Steve and Van say that at their age and with their mother’s declining health, who needs Van and Carol’s full-time care, it’s just a good time to say goodbye. âWe’ve been together all day, every day. Not many people work with their families all the time, so it’s going to be weird not to see them every day, âsays Christy.
The Shepherd family welcomes and encourages anyone wishing to stop by for a visit or a last chance to shop before the official closing date.
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