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Music keeps playing during a pandemic

Sue Schreier of The Note Gallery on Main Street in Marshall offered virtual lessons in the spring to attract retail customers during a tough business climate because of COVID-19 restrictions.

It takes more than a pandemic to stop the enthusiasm people have for music.

Even though there isn’t the usual schedule of concerts, athletic events and formal practices; music store owners in Marshall find that customers still enjoy singing and playing their favorite instruments.

“It’s different than before,” said Sue Schreier of The Note Gallery located on Main Street. “At first last winter nobody was coming into the store. Now we have a few more retail customers and in-person lessons.”

She began to offer virtual lessons last spring. Some of her musicians still prefer the virtual format, but others have come back to in-person lessons with proper precautions.

Voice lessons take place near the front of the store, with the singer positioned a safe distance from the piano. Masks and hand sanitizer are used for all piano lessons. Masks are also required for instrument lessons that take place in lesson rooms.

Schreier said lessons accounted for about 40 percent of the total business activity until 2020. It’s increased to about 60 percent because of a decline in sales.

“We had a boost for a while because people wanted an instrument or wanted to stock up on supplies,” she said. “Once they had that we saw a decline. Our most popular items continue to be the beginning keyboards and guitars.”

She said pandemic conditions have caused delays in shipping many of the items she sells. It’s also at times a challenge to ship items out quickly when customers order from a long distance.

A factor that makes up for logistical issues is the enthusiasm customers have for music and for making it part of their daily lives.

She serves a combination of beginners to highly experienced musicians. She’s noticed that many people have wanted to get started in the past year because of the extra time they’re spending at home.

“I’ve seen a higher number of adults who played instruments when they were young and want to get back to it,” Schreier said. “Most of them start with a lot of skill. It’s something they don’t forget completely.”

She said the overall level of business has been enough to sustain operations. The Note Gallery is staffed only by herself and her husband John, and their son Terry helps out regularly.

They first opened the store in 2012. Even after almost a decade, they see a need to create awareness about the range of merchandise and lessons opportunities they have to offer.

“We’re still building public recognition,” Sue said. “We want people to know that we’re here. We can meet a wide range of music needs.”

Business activity has also been favorable for Lon Wright, who operates Music Street. The store first opened in 1985, and has seen much of its activity continue even with pandemic circumstances.

“It’s meant challenges, but it could be a lot worse,” Wright said. “We’re surviving. We didn’t replace college students who worked for us last summer, but we haven’t had to lay off any employees.”

He said the biggest boost to business in the past year has come from people wanted to try an instrument for the first time, or who want to return to an instrument they played in the past.

“This has been my best year for guitars,” he said. “People have been spending more time at home, and many of them have more free time. They want to fill those hours with something fun. An instrument offers many hours of enjoyment.”

He said shipments for all of his products have involved some adjustments because of the pandemic. Overall however most items arrive within a reasonable amount of time after orders are placed.

“It might take a little longer sometimes, but the merchandise is getting here,” Wright said. “We’ve also been able to ship things out fairly well as needed. A big part of our sales business is online.”

He said music lessons went to an online format last spring, and have remained completely virtual. His wife, Diane, is one of the instructors.

“We’ve kept it strictly virtual because it’s been going quite well,” Wright said. “Families and individuals have been willing to work with it and have adapted to the technology.”

He said the main declines in business activity have related to adjustments that have been needed in school music programs.

Instrument sales for school purposes have been lower as there have been fewer events and practices. It’s also contributed to a slight decline in the amount of instrument repair.

He said schools have, however, worked to keep their music programs active. Steps have included the use of online technology, and also having more versatile use of building space.

“They been doing their best to make sure students continue to have opportunities,” Wright said. “It will help as far as restarting events when conditions are more favorable. Our connection to school activities has always been important.”

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