From K. C. MEADOWS
Ukiah Daily Journal
As the Christmas shopping season kicks off, one Ukiah business will begin a giant sale on Monday.
A going out of business sale.
Spencer Brewer, well-known local musician, is closing the Ukiah Music Center after six years selling pianos, guitars, amplifiers, guitar strings, music books, drums and every other kind of musical instrument or gizmo imaginable.
It was the largest music store in three counties and the only piano store between here and the Oregon border.
The economy certainly had a hand in the problems at UMC this year, but Brewer said he feels his situation also presents a cautionary tale about shopping locally.
“We’re going out of business in large part because of the Internet,” he said, “where they don’t pay sales taxes or freight.”
Competitors on the Internet, he said, can sell musical instruments cheaper than he can even stock them wholesale.
What is most aggravating, he continued, was that people would come into the Ukiah Music Center, ask about an instrument, get the store to give them the research and the brochures, and then buy their instrument or equipment on the Internet. Then, he said, they would bring the equipment into the Ukiah Music Center and ask for help using it or fixing it.
“That happened a lot,” he said.
Brewer said it’s not about the “profits” to him personally, but the four full-time and two part-time jobs the store provided, the instruments the store donated to schools, the sold-out Acoustic Café events, the Rock Camp and other music events for young people the Music Center hosted and that will now end.
“Shopping locally is investing in your own future,” Brewer said.
Last year, when the economic meltdown hit nationwide, Brewer brought together a group of local businesses, media and other organizations to discuss a campaign urging local residents to do their holiday shopping locally.
MendoLoco was born and had a full fledged “buy local” campaign in place in two weeks. That group has continued to meet through 2009 and is kicking off another holiday campaign now.
(In the process, one member of the MendoLoco group found an old advertising film from 1937 made in Ukiah and shown as a preview in the local movie theater urging people to shop in local stores.)
Brewer said he understands why people look for the best price when they shop, but the underlying costs of not shopping locally – loss of sales taxes for police and fire departments, for instance – aren’t uppermost in people’s minds.
“I totally get it,” he said, of bargain hunting. He said he himself was once among the people who thought local shop owners were just looking “to get rich.”
After six years in the retail business in town, he knows better.
“I’m the last person to get down on people who shop at Walmart, but there has to be a balance,” he said.
Local small business owners have to watch every penny and pay more for goods than chain stores or Internet retailers, he said.
“Believe me, we didn’t get rich.”
Brewer knows there’s a larger discussion to be had about “brick and mortar” retailing (actual stores), and whether the world is simply changing and whether we need an Internet sales tax to be provided to local governments.
In the meantime, his advice to anyone wishing to go into the retail business is: Find out if your business has a robust Internet presence and does Walmart or Kmart have a whole section of what you want to sell. If not, Brewer said, you might have a level playing field.
When the Ukiah Music Center closes Dec. 31, Brewer said he will be looking at “the first time in 33 years that I am not starting a new business or sustaining a business I have.”
Then he laughed. “I’m available!” he said.