A place to buy a guitar since 1964, ABC Music Company is shutting down

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The downtown Salem music store has been family run for decades, but the owner decided to sell as he reached retirement age, and the city is redeveloping this downtown block.

David Chassman, left, and his son-in-law Dan Miles, right, posing in ABC Music Company, which closed earlier this month. (Ron Cooper / Salem Reporter)

After nearly 60 years in business, the remnants of ABC Music Company were gone with just one phone call.

The music store has always had a presence in downtown Salem as the city has grown and changed over the years. It went from being a hardware store to selling guitars for decades, surpassing other independent music stores in the United States.

Owner David Chassman said they didn’t have to sell, but he and his wife were considering retiring.

They sell the building at 263 Chemeketa St. NE to the town of Salem, which is considering redeveloping the block.

“We could have stayed there, but we had to deal with all this construction going on, it just didn’t make sense,” he said. “For me, at my age and my wife, it made sense that we would go with the flow and move on to the next phase of our lives.”

He said now is the perfect time to sell, as there have been difficulties obtaining inventory during the pandemic, which made it easier to sell instruments to other dealers.

“I made a call and it was all gone,” he said.

The store closed on October 18.

Beginnings

ABC Music Company was not originally a music store.

It was once Square Deal Hardware, a store that Chassman’s grandfather opened after serving in World War II.

His grandfather was an armaments repairer during the war, trained to repair guns, turrets and tanks.

Then he became a watchmaker.

After the war, it was difficult to get goods, so her mother would go to New York to go to the jewelry wholesaler for her father.

It was in New York that Chassman’s parents met. The couple returned to Oregon and for several years, Chassman’s father and grandfather ran Square Deal.

As more and more companies came to Salem to sell equipment, it became more difficult to compete.

A chance meeting with an old friend led them to branch out into instruments.

Chassman’s mother went to Portland to check out other options as she considered opening a toy store. When she was out for dinner, she met an old friend from high school who owned a music store.

The friend ended up giving Chassman’s mom a few guitars to see how they would sell in the store.

They all sold and in 1964 the family made the decision to go into music full time.

They were selling accordions, guitars and ukuleles.

Chassman said the young people had heard music through the Johnny Cash Show, the Ed Sullivan Show or the Beatles and wanted to play it themselves.

“The kids would be exposed to their music and see the types of drums, guitars… and they were looking for that,” he said.

Country players, rock and roll players, and blues players all came to buy equipment.

“All of them are different markets and they don’t all play the same guitar, or they play the same guitar and it’s set up in a different way. You learn from them and they learn from you, ”he said.

Chassman started working in the store while in college in the early 1970s. When he attended Oregon State University, he came home every weekend to help his parents.

At first he learned to change the strings of a guitar, to tune them and to adjust the neck. Over time, he took on more responsibilities before taking over the store.

Chassman is a guitarist and passionate about the guitar.

One of the highlights of owning the store was hearing Brooks Roberston, an Oregon guitarist who went on to study at Berklee College of Music, play in the store in 2013.

Robertton reminded Chassman of famous guitar picker Tommy Emmanuel.

“It really is an Oregon treasure,” he said.

Retirement

Chassman recalled how, in the 1980s, he and his wife accidentally bought a four-house house from an “extremely good musical instrument repairer.”

He said his neighbor was a master at repairing corns and would spend hours at home learning from him.

There are skills he learned back then that he still uses today, he said.

Recently he has been playing the horn again. He would take the instrument into the store on slow days and practice.

He and his wife bought a motorhome a few years ago which they hope to put to good use this winter.

For years, Chassman said customers would come to the store in January and stock up on twines and picks before heading to Arizona for the winter.

He said in RV parks they will put up a sign every night for the music.

“If you want, you can play music every night,” he said. “My wife and I are planning to go see this.”

Chassman said there had been a surge of support since announcing the shutdown on Facebook.

He choked on describing the love of people thanking him for all these years.

On Facebook, he wrote: “We have had many ‘class numbers’ with us over the years. I would hate to give names for fear of leaving someone off the list. All I can say is thank you all for your love and support over the years. We love you too and thank you for the most important thing of all. Your friendship. I never felt uncomfortable going to work. I tried to help everyone I could and refer people to others when I couldn’t. I will miss seeing you and helping you. Thank you for your trust and your sponsorship. I will miss you all. “

Chassman said all of his emotions accumulated when he wrote the post.

People commented remembering buying their first guitar there or taking lessons in the basement.

“Real bittersweet feeling. I’m so happy Dave is retiring after running the place for so long. He really deserves it. The thought of closing ABC leaves a feeling of melancholy in my heart and soul. It is simply The Little Music Store that could. Far outlasted other department stores. Family management for 60 years. Wow, that’s resistance! wrote Jesse Ruggles, who said he taught classes at the store.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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