A longtime resource for musicians in Carrboro and Chapel Hill closed its doors for the last time at the beginning of the new year.
The Music Loft of Carrboro, at 116 W. Main St., announced it was done in a post on its website.
Jim Dennis – who has run the store with his wife, Katharine, since 2002 – cited increasing pressures from online music retailers. Like most industries, music equipment sales have increasingly been navigating to online marketplaces, which has hurt sales for music retailers as big as Guitar Center to small mom-and-pop stores.
“Even in the last six months, retail has changed dramatically,” Dennis said, noting that he believes young shoppers have learned to buy items on their phone for cheap. “That is where things are going, and it is really hard to compete with that.”
Rather than compete with online prices and amenities such as free shipping, Dennis decided to close the store while it was still his choice, rather than being forced to close because he couldn’t keep up with rent.
“Just because I am closing my store doesn’t mean I am destitute,” the 53-year-old said. “In life the more things you can do on your own terms, the better you will feel about yourself.”
Dennis said the store has sold around 90 percent of its inventory and is directing musicians and customers looking for service to Main Street Music of Carrboro, a smaller store that is now the last music store in town.
“They have a luthier, a guy who works on guitars, so I am pointing people towards them,” he said. “I try to tell people to go to John Pardue (the owner of Main Street Music). He is a good guy; he has it going on.”
Gabriele Pelli, a Carrboro-based musician who has played with bands such as The Old Ceremony and Onyx Club Boys, said the Music Loft will be sorely missed by local musicians who used the place to buy last-minute gear or as a gathering place.
“It’s a big loss for all musicians and all the people that work there,” Pelli said. “They were always very supportive of local musicians and helpful … I went there a lot for little things, like strings, picks and books and cables – all those things that you need right away.”
Pelli, who also teaches music, said he formed a symbiotic relationship with the store, sending his students there to buy things and the store sending interested students his way.
“Occasionally, I would buy a guitar or an amp, and I would recommend my students to buy their guitars there,” Pelli said. “It was symbiotic relationship, they would recommend to me and I would send my student to them.
“It worked well until the internet and online music retailers undercut everyone and brick and mortar had a hard time competing.”
Pelli added that it will be a loss for musicians who need last-minute items before a gig – an occasion that happens frequently in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, home of the Cat’s Cradle music venue and the nearby Local 506.
Dennis recalled an episode where he fixed an amp for John Doe, the singer and bassist of the Los Angeles band The Knitters.
“You can’t get your amp fixed on Amazon a half hour before a show,” he said.
Dennis, who also helps organize the annual Carrboro Music Festival, said closing the Music Loft doesn’t mean Carrboro’s music scene is any less vibrant than it was 15 years ago. If anything it has become more diverse, he said.
“Fifteen years ago, (Chapel Hill and Carrboro) was dominated by singer songwriter and Americana. Last year, we had 10 hours of hip-hop and rap on one stage at the Carrboro Music Festival – you never had that before,” he said. “It’s still a great music scene. The Cat’s Cradle just spent $250,000 on the P.A. system for its Back Room last year.”
Dennis said he is still considering what his next move will be – he says he has a lot of options and will still work as a sound engineer for bands and music spaces.
“I just need to take a little breather,” he said.