The noisy jingles signalled my entrance into the tiny store so crammed with guitars I was afraid it might burst.
Seconds later, a customer came in, striking up a conversation with the people behind the desk.
Soon after he left with a Dean guitar, his day seemingly made by his new toy and the welcoming interaction he received from the store’s employees.
Pop’s Music Shop might be a quaint little store, but it’s full of soul.
Squeezed right in the heart of Hespeler in Cambridge, Pop’s is a music store that remains dedicated to its beloved customers and supports craft-brand instruments.
The store has operated out of different locations on the same street for 12 years. Previously called Classical Guitars & Accessories, the store was founded by Joy Walker, before being sold to its current owner, Dave Baker, two years ago, who changed the name to Pop’s – a term of endearment given to him by his grandchildren.
Baker, with his salt and pepper hair and faint British accent, fits the “Pops” description perfectly. Dressed casually in a sweater and jeans, he gave me a jolly smile as I entered the store.
“My aunt started this business out of her house, and then it grew to a store,” said Steph Walker, who has worked in the store for nearly 11 years. “You can start it however you want, and she literally started it out of her dining room.”
Walker sat behind the counter, knit sweater hanging off her shoulders and straight, blond hair falling down her back. The prominent eyebrow piercing was balanced out by the bright smile she kept giving.
“She’s still around; she’s not dead,” Baker said. “She’s one accomplished classical guitar player. Blew me away when she first played. You look at Joy and she’s this short little person – jolly face and curly hair – she picks up this guitar and you just go, ‘oh my lord.’”
Managing the music store has been an interesting experience, with the business, at one point, not even having a home.
“It was pretty scary. The person who owned the first building we were in did not have it up for sale so we didn’t know it was for sale,” Walker said. “Someone offered him money and he accepted it. He basically said ‘get out.’ So Joy was selling a business without a building. Luckily the people who were in our second location before were very nice and said, ‘hey, we’re moving, and it’s not up for lease yet. Come talk to our landlord,’ and that’s how we’re here.”
“That was an accomplishment,” Baker laughed. “We were very lucky, because that could have been disastrous.”
Baker and Walker both said since then, Pop’s Music Shop has not been an easy ride, with struggles both in the music business and even something as simple as recent construction just down the road.
“That was bad and it’s coming back,” Walker said. “You literally could not get on the main street. So people were not coming to any of the businesses. You could not get off the highway to the town.”
“This is next,” Baker said, gesturing to right out front of the store.
Walker said the biggest challenge, however, is the major music store chains.
“Big-box music stores affect all of us,” she said. “Any little family-owned business. They can beat you out no matter what. We are lucky and we have customers who stick to us because we’re nicer, but they can definitely get a better deal from them. They order a thousand of one product, and we order five of them. We can’t get the discount they can.”
The problem with music instruments is brand – if it’s not a known brand, usually the buyer won’t want it. One of Pop’s Music Shop’s biggest challenges is convincing customers that, sometimes, cheaper is better.
“We carry the off-brand,” Baker said.
“I can tell you a guitar that’s cheaper and better than a Fender, but because it doesn’t say it at the top, the guy’s still not going to buy it because his buddies won’t think it’s cool,” Walker said, adding that many guitars are machine-made on a conveyor belt in China.
“It’s like Toyota – they’re literally on a rack getting passed from machine to machine, it’s not a person making them. If we can show you someone’s hands made it, it’s a better guitar than what a machine can make.”
Baker said you survive with the services you offer.
“If you want to get a guitar repaired, Long & McQuade won’t do it,” Baker said. “‘It’s not worth it,’ they’ll tell them. But if you come to us and you’ve got a guitar that your grandfather gave you, and you want it repaired, then you’re going to have it repaired.”
They do have a repairman, Paul, whom they claim is the best at what he does.
Because of the other services they have, including music lessons, Pop’s Music Shop has done pretty well because of their devoted customers.
The store is located at 8 Queen St. E., and sells guitars, amplifiers, drums, ukeleles, saxophones and trumpets. They also sell accessories and even kazoos.