Rochester band Junkyardfieldtrip plays two songs during D&C’s Coffee Break Concert with Jeff Spevak.
Jeff Spevak, Virginia Butler, Olivia Lopez
Rock and roll was in its infancy when Eldon Stutzman expanded his hobby into what became the family business.
Stutzman worked in insurance but was into guitars and other stringed instruments. He collected them, played them and repaired them. By 1952, he started offering service from his home in Spencerport on a by-appointment basis.
That led to what now is Stutzman Guitar Center, on West Ridge Road in Greece. Eldon’s son, Dave, runs the business now with other family members.
“In the early days, so few people specialized in this kind of thing,” Dave Stutzman said. His dad fell in love with the banjo while attending Syracuse University and expanded into guitar and violin.
“He said, ‘I don’t have a lot of money so I better learn to fix these,’ ” Dave Stutzman said. “He loved doing it…After dinner, Dad would go into the basement and work in his workshop. When I was nine, I was doing things that I couldn’t mess up, the grunt-work.”
Business got so good that Eldon opened his first shop on Jay Street in Rochester in 1964. That was the year that “Beatlemania” swept the world. Kids absorbed everything Beatles-related — and that included guitars.
“At first, acoustic guitars made up most of our sales,” Dave Stutzman said. “Then, with the Beatles, we sold more electric guitars. And there was the folk boom at the time, so we have two guns going then.”
Dave took over in 1977, a year after his father died. Dave’s wife, Margaret, joined the same year and his brother, Richard, began as an instrument repairman eight years later. Dave and Richard’s mom, Elaine, was bookkeeper for some 30 years before she died. Dave’s daughter, Megan Wright, works there part-time.
Also in 1977, Stutzman Guitar Center moved to its current site on West Ridge Road. The business at one time included a guitar factory that has since closed. A major renovation to the West Ridge shop in 1989 added more space to the showroom, workshop and teaching studios.
The shop has more than 1,000 instruments in stock. Banjos, mandolins and violins are available, but the emphasis, as the name indicates, is on guitars. Acoustic versions have gotten a lot better in the past 15 years, Stutzman said, and the electric models of choice continue to be the iconic Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster.
Stutzman said his dad taught him to play a bit and said he took classical guitar lessons.
“I was interested in the Beatles, of course, as well as the Byrds and Peter, Paul and Mary,” he said. “I played with friends in a bluegrass band for several years.”
Customers have come from all over. One guy used to drive up regularly from Atlanta to trade and buy guitars. “He was an ultra-hobbyist,” Stutzman said with a laugh.
The drop-off in guitar-based rock on the pop charts in recent years has affected Stutzman Guitar Center. Nowadays, he said, young people are interested in techno-based sounds. “The 12-to-22-year-olds that were such a huge part of our business…are not as interested in playing anymore,” he said. Repair work has remained steady, he added.
As for the future of the guitar business, don’t fret. As Neil Young sang, rock and roll will never die.
Alan Morrell is a Rochester-based freelance writer.
Small, family-run businesses are big contributors to our region’s economy — and identity. Meet some of the people who put their hearts (and a lot of their time) into serving the community through their businesses, such as restaurants, hardware stores, shops and galleries.
Do you have a family business you’re proud of? Email cbenjami@DemocratandChronicle.com.
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