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People’s Music in Sebastopol closes after nearly 50 years

People’s Music sale

What: Various instruments and music books at People’s Music are reduced to 50% off and are available in the store until Aug. 31.

When they close the store, however, Alex Bryant and Laurie Meade will need time to clean up, and they’ll hold pop-up sales at the store during various weekends until December.

When: For in-person shopping, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday until Aug. 31. Check their website at peoplesmusic.com, their Facebook page and signs posted in the storefront for updates.

Where: 122 N. Main St., Sebastopol

After nearly 50 years, People’s Music — a quaint store on Sebastopol’s Main Street where many locals bought their first guitars or took their first banjo lessons — is closing its doors, marking the end of an era for the community.

In a marketplace that favors the convenience of streaming music and online shopping, Alex Bryant and Laurie Meade, co-owners of the oldest business on Main Street, decided it was time to face reality and move their store online.

Their last business day at the brick-and-mortar location is on Aug. 31.

“It’s been a struggle. Rent keeps going up, margins keep going down and we can’t compete with the internet at this point,” said Meade, 60.

The store was more than a place to buy new instruments and take music lessons. It also was a second home for a variety of local and regional musicians, known and unknown, like Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Steve Kimock, Les Claypool and others who simply love to play music.

“This store is a musical community,” said Bryant, 60. “It’s inspiring to hear why people come into the store and get to see people’s reactions to the instruments.

“That’s going to be missed” he added.

People’s Music was founded in 1973 as a record store by original owners Jane and Duane Phillips. In 1986, Bryant’s father, Bo, a four-string banjo player who ran a music store in San Rafael for many years, bought the store and expanded it, adding more musical instruments to the store’s collection.

In 2015, Bryant and his wife, Laurie Meade, decided to take over and operated the store with their son, Ryan, and longtime employees Chris Carney, Hoytus Rolen and Mark Hogan.

On top of juggling the time and energy they put into their store, Meade and Bryant also work full-time jobs. Bryant works for a software developer, and Meade is an independent consultant for various companies.

They’ve even reached into their savings in some months to keep the business up and running.

“It’s always been a service to the community,” Bryant said. “We’re like a charity or nonprofit; we’re something people need, but no one’s paying for it. There’s not enough business to support this store.”

After their lease ends in December, he plans to move the store’s items to a barn, where he’ll continue instrument repairs. With the planned online store, they will perhaps focus on their vintage and ethnic instruments, including a kora (African harp), a koto (Japanese harp) and banjos, among others.

“The business will exist sort of as a clandestine, underground music store,” Bryant said.

Though a chapter is closing, the show must go on. Bryant is brainstorming ways to continue sales while staying connected to the store’s community — maintaining the business through pop-ups at local farmers markets and events, offering their instrument-repair services, announcing big sales on social media and continuing to answer questions about repairs or instruments by text or phone.

“We want to make the website more organic,” Bryant said. “Make it more human. I don’t know exactly how we’ll do that yet.”

One of the things Bryant will miss the most are the connections he’s made with customers as people sift through CDs and test out multiple guitars at the store to discover their perfect instrument.

“Not everything will translate digitally,” Bryant said. “There’s nothing like seeing a kid hear something for the first time and letting people feel and play the instruments before they buy it.”

Like other businesses around Sonoma County and the world, People’s Music was forced to temporarily close and furlough employees during the pandemic. But, according to Bryant, there was an upside.

“People really made an effort to shop online more than ever,” Bryant said.

During the first pandemic lockdown in 2020, people began adopting new hobbies, including learning to play music. Customers picked up their orders from the store and their son Ryan drove around Sonoma County to drop off orders.

However, sales began to slow as COVID-19 restrictions eased up and people retired their newfound hobbies, Bryant said.

New chapter

The store’s closing doesn’t just hit home for longtime customers but also for the employees who have dedicated their life’s work to People’s Music.

Carney, 74, has worked at the store for 35 years, repairing acoustic stringed instruments, managing the store and giving music lessons. He said he expected this development but wasn’t prepared for it.

“It’s a sad ending of an era,” Carney said as he repaired a harp with missing strings in his repair room at the store. I’ve never had to look for another job. This is my second home.

“I’m going to miss it a great deal,” he added.

On June 27, Bryant announced the store’s upcoming closing on Facebook. Fans immediately reacted with notes of appreciation for People’s Music.

One of the commenters, Shannon Elsom, 49, started taking guitar lessons at the shop in 2018. She bought her first electric guitar there and learned a few life lessons too, she said.

“It was a place where I could be supported and explore my creativity,” said Elsom, who now lives in Michigan. “(People’s Music employee) Hoytus not only taught me how to play, but he taught me life lessons. I hope this reroute takes them to beautiful places.”

One of the store’s pianos, which sat outside for over a year, turned into a meeting space for strangers and kids, who painted on the piano and watered fresh plants and flowers on and around it.

“The community made it theirs,” Bryant said.

Recently, the piano found a new home, in a Cazadero barn where it will be available for Airbnb travelers to play and enjoy.

“When one chapter closes, another one opens,” said Hogan, 70, who started teaching at the store in 2006. “It feels more like a funeral than a layoff.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.

Mya Constantino

Features reporter

Stories can inspire you, make you laugh, cry and sometimes, heal. I love a feature story that can encapsulate all of those things. I cover the interesting people that exist around us, art and music that move us and the hidden gems that make Sonoma County pretty cool. Let's explore those things together.

People’s Music sale

What: Various instruments and music books at People’s Music are reduced to 50% off and are available in the store until Aug. 31.

When they close the store, however, Alex Bryant and Laurie Meade will need time to clean up, and they’ll hold pop-up sales at the store during various weekends until December.

When: For in-person shopping, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday until Aug. 31. Check their website at peoplesmusic.com, their Facebook page and signs posted in the storefront for updates.

Where: 122 N. Main St., Sebastopol

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