Back in college -- yes, in the stone age -- I worked for a musical instrument store on the north side of Houston. Over the years, there were busy days where I just stood behind the counter while a line of people handed me guitars to buy without the hint of a sales push and there were days we sat in the store and jammed instead of working.
Most people thought (and probably still think) that, like the rest of the retail world, music stores rake it in the weekend after Thanksgiving. While it is true that sales were often brisk that weekend, they rarely eclipsed specially promoted sale days at the store or times we had clinics with well known musicians.
The truth is, when it comes gifts for musicians, Black Friday just isn't that big of a deal.
"It's mom and dad going to buy for the kids," Jim Cappiello, owner of Texas Music Emporium and my former boss, told me. He said that the big box retailers entice people with huge deals and that just doesn't work for music stores. "They should call it 'loss leader day,'" he said.
The reasoning seems fairly obvious. Speciality gifts like instruments -- or cars if you believe the commercials with the giant bows -- can be purchased just about anytime, but $10 digital cameras, for some, are stampede worthy. And anyone who has bought music gear for themselves or loved ones understands that the price on the tag is rarely the final price. Haggling is part of the process.
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In 2011, like the last couple years, the economy hasn't helped. Cappiello said this year hasn't been bad but it's "no record setter." The people who are buying, like most years, aren't going on a spending spree. Inexpensive guitar packages and drum sets along with miscellaneous accessories rule the Christmas season, this year in particular, as consumers try to fight through the fears of a continuing financial crisis in America. "Even if you have money, the gloom and doom is on the news every day," Cappiello said.
One thing you won't be seeing from music stores is the middle-of-the-night openings. Years ago, the store where I worked decided to have a "midnight madness" sale. We attempted to stay open until midnight, but ended up closing around 9:30 p.m. because so many people came in drunk and/or stoned. "They were hammered, not just drunk," Cappiello remembered.
And with music stores, there is a seriously increased risk of theft, which has to be a concern for the big retailers as well, "You're asking for people to steal stuff," Cappiello said, "A guy walks in without a hat, he's leaving with a hat. How are you going to police that?"
So, if you are shopping for a musician this year, keep in mind that while the deals at Best Buy may be enticing, the crowds are a lot smaller at your local music store. Of course, if you absolutely have to have that $100 laptop, the good news is deals will still be waiting for you when you do finally check off the musician on your list.