HAVERHILL — The only business of its kind in downtown Haverhill is leaving.
Not every downtown has one. It’s not a restaurant, salon, antique shop, travel agency, dollar store, bank or law office.
The Haverhill Music Centre — a place of commerce, culture and learning for nearly 60 years — is closing doors.
Owner Brian Ross he’s going out of business mostly because of his biggest competition: “The Internet,” he said. “Specifically the sale of sheet music and music books, which have always been a very large part of what we do.”
Music teachers from throughout the area shopped at his store for lesson books and sheet music for their students, but over the last few years many of them have turned to online shopping, he said. So have other customers. It’s not so much the price, he said, but the convenience of not having to drive to his store. Ross likened his situation to that of some large book store chains that have closed in recent years.
“You don’t need to buy an actual book. You can download them now,” he said. “The fundamental way people acquire these products has changed and that’s the biggest factor for us.”
Haverhill Music Centre founder Robert Killey opened the store in 1955, Ross said, and when Killey retired in 1994, his daughter Pattie Killey took over the business. Ross bought it in 2004. He was familiar with the shop, as he did band instrument repairs for Killey’s customers since 1989. From simple adjustments to full restoration of clarinets, flutes, saxaphones, trumpets and trombones, Ross repaired them all and will continue to do repairs, only not downtown.
“It was a well-known and successful store,” Ross said. “Music lessons have been a big part of it as well. We have seven rooms and we were always busy.”
Like a perfect storm, at the same time Ross was being battered by the Internet, the city’s public schools cut back on their music programs. Fewer public school students learning to play band instruments meant fewer instrument rentals and a loss in sales of sheet music, lesson books and accessories.
“It’s been about three or four years since that part of the business was good,” Ross said.
When the state increased the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent a few years ago, Ross noticed a drop in sales.
“It was just enough to push people to buy online and shop over the border,” he said about tax-free New Hampshire.
Gas prices skyrocketed, pushing more people to buy online. Then came the new downtown paid parking program — another nail in the coffin for Haverhill Music Centre, Ross said.
“It was one more factor and it just doesn’t help us,” he said.
He launched his going-out-of-business sale two weeks ago, and within a week sold most of his inventory of instruments and accessories. Customers have been flocking to the store, snapping up bargains and stripping it nearly clean, he said. A wall that once displayed columns of guitars is nearly barren. Display racks once laden with packages of guitar strings look like branches in the fall after they’ve shed their leaves. A glass and wooden case that cradled harmonicas of various sizes in red felt pockets now looks like the cratered surface of the moon. Not a single clarinet or saxophone reed is left and just about every drumstick has been sold.
“We even sold some framed pictures of composers such as Liszt, Beethoven and Shubert,” said long-time store employee Steve Goldbaum.
Goldbaum said he considers himself lucky for the more than 20 years he spent serving the needs of customers. It was always a chance to chat about what music they were listening to, what club they were performing at, what their students were learning or what new song they were trying to master.
“I think people really appreciated that they could come in and talk to us about music,” Goldbaum said. “I’m going to miss this and I’m going to miss the people ... the many customers I’ve met ... musicians, wonderful people.”
The music section that Goldbaum was in charge of still had ample inventory last week. The sale attracted many customers, including piano instructor Bettina Turner of Newburyport, who has been shopping at the Haverhill Music Centre for more than 25 years. She is one of many long-time customers who were notified in advance of the sale.
“I’m completely heartbroken that it is closing,” Turner said while flipping through the racks of music books. “You can’t browse for music online or find something I wasn’t looking for. Coming here offered a sense of discovery and now it’s all gone.”
The sale will continue through the end of the month, when Ross will lock the doors for good.
He said he will continue to offer band instrument repair service to customers through the Music Workshop in Salem, a business he’s worked with for years.
“To close was a very difficult decision to make,” Ross said about the Haverhill Music Centre. “People who have been coming in say they are saddened by this. They say thank you for our years of service and we thank them.”