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The gig is up for Daddy's

Surprise and sadness over the loss of a favorite musical instrument store

Rick Peckham, assistant chair of the guitar department at Berklee, outside the shuttered Daddy’s on Mass. Ave. Rick Peckham, assistant chair of the guitar department at Berklee, outside the shuttered Daddy’s on Mass. Ave. (david l. ryan/globe staff)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / November 5, 2011

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Strolling the neighborhood around Berklee College of Music at Boylston Street and Mass. Ave. this week, Rick Peckham pointed out where the instrument sales and repair shops used to be: LaSalle Music Inc., E.U. Wurlitzer Music & Sound, and Jack’s Drum Shop. Cambridge Music Center and Boston Guitar Works also had locations nearby.

“The people that worked in those were not just salesmen, they were musicians who were involved in getting the lore across in a different way, a different way than it was at the music school, that’s for sure,’’ said Peckham, assistant chair of the guitar department at Berklee, where he’s taught since 1986.

The sudden closing of the Daddy’s Junky Music Stores last week removed the last major instrument shop in Berklee’s neighborhood, where every third person seemed to be carrying an instrument case.

“That was the spot, because you’d run into everybody down there,’’ said drummer Coley Rybicki of the North Shore-based Satch Kerans Band. He used to visit the area often but lately was a customer of Daddy’s suburban locations. “I was heartbroken to see they closed.’’

“If you can’t make it with a music store across the street from Berklee, you’re pretty much sunk,’’ said Robert Schlink, an associate professor in the school’s ensemble department, who was passing by.

Ironically, Berklee owns the building, where Daddy’s also drew customers from the nearby Boston Conservatory and other schools. The Mass. Ave. location was the 12-store chain’s busiest. The nearest retailer now is Rayburn Musical Instrument Company on Huntington Ave.

Statistics from the National Association of Music Merchants suggest the Daddy’s closing is not part of a major trend, though; association membership has gone down only slightly in recent years, from 2,777 in FY2010 to 2,765 in FY2011.

“[Daddy’s] closing is a little more abrupt and more unexpected than some mom-and-pop stand-alone store in Medford,’’ said Christian Wissmuller, editor of Needham-based trade journal Musical Merchandise Review.

Wissmuller said the industry seems relatively stable after a lot of store closings in the early 2000s. Daddy’s was actually the largest regional chain in a field now dominated by the national Guitar Center chain, he said. The decision to close several Daddy’s locations earlier this year had “raised eyebrows,’’ he said, but most believed the company would survive.

The closing came as a surprise even to Daddy’s founder Fred Bramante.

“I am brokenhearted,’’ an emotional Bramante said this week. “I had to tell all my employees, many of them with me for decades, that they didn’t have a job anymore, and they didn’t have health insurance. It was the hardest day in my life since the death of my dad.’’

After 39 years, Daddy’s faced a financial crunch that had roots both in the overall economic downturn and in the difficulty of competing with online marketers, he said.

“I built my business on the New Hampshire advantage,’’ Bramante said, by opening his first stores in the state where there’s no sales tax but close enough to Massachusetts to lure customers over the border. Now the tax-free Internet has the same advantage over bricks and mortar stores everywhere, he said.

“It is pulling huge revenue out of every state in the United States that has a sales tax. It is killing retail construction, and that’s jobs, and it’s killing retail stores, and that’s jobs,’’ Bramante, of Durham, N.H., said by phone.

Around Boylston and Mass. Ave., anyway, Berklee’s Peckham said, personal relationships between musicians and salespeople led to good service and sometimes informal discounts. But as in many retail sectors, the business has changed, Peckham said.

“We’re in an era now where somebody’s going into a music store to check out what a model is . . . and they literally can order it on their smartphone while they’re in the store and have it delivered to their house, while the person who actually ‘sold’ it to them doesn’t get the sale,’’ Peckham said.

Around Oct. 21, Daddy’s received a $3 million default notice from its major creditor, GE Capital, Bramante said, and without the cash to pay, the chain closed its doors for good Oct. 26.

Debt was an ongoing issue lately, but Bramante and partner Chris Gleason had shaped a plan to pare expenses, he said. They expected their situation to improve with a busy Christmas season, and they had plenty of inventory on hand. “It didn’t have to happen,’’ he said.

Bramante opened the first store in Salem, N.H. in 1972, and the chain had 12 locations, including five in Massachusetts, as of the closing. He said more than 100 people lost their jobs when the stores closed, including at least 30 in Massachusetts.

Back in the 1990s, Andover teenager Scott Crawford saved up to buy a guitar from the Daddy’s in Salem, N.H., a black Gibson SG like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath plays. Living in Lowell now, Crawford is 30 and a new father, and he doesn’t play that guitar much. But when his wife wanted to get him a DJ system with two turntables and a mixer for his birthday last month, she bought a $200 Numark model from Daddy’s in Nashua, N.H., over the phone.

It didn’t show up in time for his party, though, and last week the Crawfords learned that Daddy’s had abruptly shut its doors.

“I’m not mad at Daddy’s at all,’’ Crawford insisted this week. “It stinks, the situation they’re in. I am by no means an irate customer.’’

Crawford is working with his bank to get his money back. Bramante said paid orders and items on layaway “are out of our hands,’’ being controlled by GE along with the rest of the company’s inventory.

As news of the closing spread, customers took to Daddy’s Facebook page in hopes of answers. “I’m sitting in the parking lot of your New Britain store watching them load everything in a moving truck,’’ a customer calling himself Joey Blow posted. “Can you please tell me how I can get my cabinet back from repair?’’

But far more messages offered support and gratitude from longtime customers. “We’re all guilty of the Internet shopping thing. . . . Let’s remember to think local first. The Bramantes and their team are truly good people, I have faith they will do everything possible to do what’s right,’’ Michael Hoffman wrote.

Bramante says that instruments and equipment that were in for repair are being kept aside at the company’s service department in Manchester, where he and a handful of remaining staffers are “feverishly working’’ to contact customers and get their items back to them.

Gale Batsimm of Andover was worried about the fate of her 16-year-old son Connor’s tenor sax, which they’d dropped off in Nashua for repair. But a Daddy’s employee helped her out.

“I received a call on Friday at 2 p.m. that if I could get to Manchester to collect my sax by 4 p.m. I could have it, after that doors would be locked,’’ Batsimm said via e-mail. “I zipped up there and am very grateful to the woman who helped us. She was there out of the goodness of her heart, since she was already out of a job. She said she had worked at Daddy’s half her life and was very concerned for her customers that they get their instruments back, so had decided to come in to facilitate that effort.’’ The instrument hadn’t been fixed yet, but Batsimm was just grateful to have it back.

Drummer Rybicki said he’ll miss Daddy’s convenience and service. He lives in Danvers, near the Peabody store, and his day job is near the Burlington one. “I was kind of surrounded by them, which is a good thing,’’ he said, because he could easily pick up drumsticks or a drum head that he needed for a gig at night.

Most musicians said they’d have to switch to the Guitar Center chain and remaining independent stores scattered around the metropolitan area. But Berklee students and staff who need their instruments repaired still have one shop in the immediate neighborhood.

Tucked between two storefronts used by Daddy’s is the tiny, cluttered space at 163 Mass. Ave. that houses the Musical Instrument Service Center. Surrounded by gear and amplifiers in for repairs, staffers said they can’t get much busier than they already are. Instrument tech Anthony Rizzotto said they are answering a lot more questions from misguided Daddy’s customers who “want to know when they can pick up their guitars.’’

In a way, the Mass. Ave. Daddy’s store was still in the music business, even though the metal security grates had been pulled and the shelves were empty. Someone had taped a flier to the window in hopes of selling their Alvarez RD8 guitar for $225 or best offer.

The best place to go for information concerning Daddy’s is its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DaddysJunkyMusic.

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.

BY JOEL BROWN /
GLOBE CORRESPONDENT


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