From accordions to zithers, Hildebrand Music has long been the place to go if you need a musical instrument in Steinbach.
The 62-year-old store, a Main Street feature, is under new ownership, but the sign out front will not change. This is because the store has remained in the family.
Eric Hildebrand took over the store from his grandfather, Dick Hildebrand, who died last May at the age of 83, leaving behind a significant contribution to Steinbach’s musical culture, but no firm succession plan for his store though. -love.
“I think he never really saw the end of this place,” Eric said.
Hildebrand’s Bargain Store was founded in 1960. A decade later the store moved to a larger space and was renamed to focus on music and jewelry.
Eric, born in 1996, grew up frequenting the store in Portage la Prairie, where he had moved two years earlier.
He knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in the store
“I always liked that,” he said. “It’s nice to see people enjoying instruments.”
In 2016, the store moved back to Steinbach, where Eric said he always did better.
Dick’s last day at the store was Nov. 7, 2020, when the pandemic forced a two-month shutdown of non-essential businesses. Eric and his father, Jerry, watched the store go through temporary closure as Dick’s health declined.
They reopened the store in January 2021 and Eric took over six months later, selling his house in Winnipeg and moving to the RM of La Broquerie so he could commit to the store full time.
A graduate of Red River College, Eric left a lucrative career as a journeyman carpenter to run a small business that in some years brought his grandfather less than minimum wage. But Eric said he doesn’t regret his career change.
“The transition hasn’t been bad. I’m enjoying it. I can play instruments all day.”
Sometimes the learning curve was steep. Some knowledge of store operations died with Dick.
“There wasn’t really time to learn anything,” Eric said.
But he already knew the inventory, and he had the most important qualification – a lifelong love for music – in spades.
Eric started piano lessons in kindergarten. Drums followed a few years later, then a guitar, which has been his main instrument for the past decade. In high school, he participated in the annual talent show.
Being around so many different instruments every day inspired Eric. He recently learned bass guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, piano and organ.
“I just try to learn everything, pretty much, in the store,” he said.
Eric said his Opa, as Dick was affectionately known to his eight grandchildren, would be proud of the store today, in part because of the amount of stock available, which Dick has always believed essential to the store’s success. Even from the hospital, Dick encouraged Eric and Jerry to order more amplifiers.
“My Opa was proud to have stored a bit of everything,” Eric said.
Eric gradually modernized the store’s inventory to meet the needs of a younger generation without alienating older customers. First, there was more equipment for electric guitarists. Eric said his grandfather stockpiled half a dozen first-generation effects pedals that didn’t really sell.
“Now we probably have 25 different pedals,” Eric said.
He also reconfigured the sales floor, removing some glass display cases to make way for an extended guitar wall and keyboard island.
Ukuleles have also been given more prominence. Eric explained that they have become hot sellers as school music programs trade woodwinds and brass instruments for instruments that don’t spread airborne particles.
The store also has a better selection of harmonicas than industry giant Long & McQuade.
Eric also started stocking brands he knew were popular, like Ernie Ball Electric Guitar Strings, which are now a bestseller.
Old-school specialty items like a trumpet maintenance kit, cork grease, and clarinet chamois can still be found under glass at the counter.
Eric also still stores a few accordions, a favorite of his grandfather. (An Italian manufacturer put its name on a line in the 1960s. When a new model arrived, Dick would make up a list of local actors.)
While the pandemic has hurt many small businesses, Hildebrand Music has had two silver linings: the nascent ‘local shops’ movement and a resurgence of interest in creative home pursuits that has seen many abandoned players dust off their instrument. or learn a new one.
Last Thursday, as sunlight streamed through the store’s tall windows, a customer walked in carrying his son’s guitar, which was missing a string. Eric quickly put on a new one, saving the man a trip to Winnipeg.
“There’s always something going on, between expeditions and stringing and fixing instruments,” Eric said.
Minor repairs are done in-house while larger jobs are sent back.
Eric said almost every day a customer asks what happened to the old man behind the counter. He keeps a framed portrait of his grandfather behind the cash register and a collage of black-and-white photographs and newspaper clippings near the main entrance.
Eric said his grandfather avoided cell phones and computers. His wife, Elsie, did bookkeeping by hand after taking an accounting course.
“They did really well together,” said Eric, who added a computer but kept the 40-year-old cash register.
“Button 9 doesn’t work on it,” he said with a smile.
Eric created a store website, but said he didn’t care about social media and planned to give the Facebook page to his family.
He tries to keep up to date with industry trends and a benefit of the job is trying on the latest merchandise.
Eric said his favorite part of running the store is seeing a customer’s face light up when they strum an instrument and realizing what they can do with a little practice.