Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — Jeff Long planned to have the sounds of music wash over his Southgate Plaza Saturday.

“The plan was to have the music outdoors,” said the vice-president of his family’s Long & McQuade music store chain — “the largest in Canada and fourth or fifth largest in the world.

“Per capita we’re the largest in the world by far. We’re quite proud of that.”

It was the same in Bowmanville Saturday, where brother Steve Long, president of the company, oversaw its grand opening crammed indoors there.

Jeff Long was very happy with Saturday’s grand opening of Long & McQuade in Gravenhurst. “Sales were good, there was an excellent turnout and great artists playing.”

But singin’ in the rain aside in Muskoka, Jeff Long was happy to have local bands and singers play indoors in a corner of the store surrounded by musicians, music lovers and walls of sound equipment and instruments.

“Sales were good, there was an excellent turnout and great artists playing,” he told me later in the afternoon, while Mitch Beube wailed away on his sax with his jazz trio.

“It’s too bad it was raining. The plan was to have all the music outside,” including Huntsville’s Cameron of Lochiel Pipes and Drums, the Muskoka Concert Band, the H11 Ukulele Club, Sonny B Mick and Sean Cotton.

In June at the store’s chain-wide sale Long will set up stage again outdoors and “we’ll have some music then.”

Long & McQuade opened locally last summer after the Toronto-based company bought the Gravenhurst plaza, including the Giant Tiger and PetroCan gas bar and added Starbucks and Pizzaville in converting the old Home Hardware.

McDonald’s is not part of the property.

The Mitch Beube Jazz Trio was one of five musical acts performing throughtout the day.

Owning their store properties is important to Long & McQuade.

“We own almost all our properties” Canada-wide, says Long. “We do that because quite often for us to get a location we have to own the location. And it makes sense financially.

“The reason is, because if you don’t own the real estate you’re at the mercy of the person who owns the building. They can raise the rent and kick you out. We’re better to control that,” he adds, acknowledging they have good neighbours (tenants) in Giant Tiger, Starbucks, Pizzaville and PetroCan.

Another problem is plazas can get run down.

“We won’t let that happen,” Long assured.

The Long family has cottages in Carnarvon, near the village of Haliburton, so were familiar with Muskoka.

And they did a lot of business with Keith Lumley, who ran Precision Music in Bracebridge before he retired and closed last year.

Long says the company doesn’t “infringe” on competitors’ sales territory.

That’s how they ended up in Gravenhurst — in between their “friends” at Music Pro in Barrie and Long & McQuade’s North Bay store.

Long likes a population of about 50,000 to open a store. So Gravenhurst fits in well between.

Kids and grown-ups got down to the business and the pure pleasure and enjoyment of playing music including Alex Hogg who tried out this electro trap kit with the help of the Roland salse rep and great teacher.

He says music runs in families.

“We see it all the time.”

His dad Jack Long started the family franchise with a store at Yonge and Yorkville in Toronto in 1956. The trumpet player was joined by friend and drummer Jack McQuade six months later. McQuade returned to fulltime playing in 1965 and sold to his partner.

The legend of Jack Long, now 93, lives on — after the company first moved to Bloor and Concord in 1973, then in 1988 to their current location on Bloor Street at Ossington.

And of course online.

The Gravenhurst and Bowmanville locations are the 95th and 96th bricks and mortar stores the chain has opened — with couple a more opening since and two more in the works “pretty soon” for 100 in total across Canada in all 10 provinces east and west coast to coast.

Long says they have 2,000 musician employees and another 1,000 instructors they contract to teach lessons — some of them who were doing so in sound-proof practice rooms all day Saturday next to where the musical acts performed all day.

“Music has always been around,” he says.

“But it was such a big part of the culture in the ’60s and ’70s” when as a teenager Long took up the sax in Grade 9 while at Northern Secondary.

He credits his teacher, well-known Toronto saxophonist Vic Bland, for enhancing his love for music and encouraging him to study “fairly seriously.”

He says an enthusiastic teacher and supportive principal with budget approval “can turn out all kinds of musicians.”

The music business has “always been busy. People grew up listening to rock. It’s always been there,” says the marketing and sales vp.

And Long & McQuade has been there, too, for 67 years. They’ve been the music staff upon which some of Canada’s greatest artists from folk like Gordon Lightfoot to rockers Rush and city-wide school and community bands and jazz greats such as the Boss Brass — along with country, classical and hip-hoppers, young and old, amateur and professional have depended on to buy, rent, trade-in or build their chops, practising arpeggios and reaching for the top of their scales.

L&M’s ascendancy, Long says, is that “I’d say we trust people and always make (music) accessible through our rentals and financing. And we are approachable.

“Our approach is that a musician is a customer for life and we treat them as well as we can. Some out-of-business music stores were about how much money can we pull out of the customer. We’re more about how can we build a relationship.”

None of Long’s staff are paid commission.

“We want them to help customers make the right decision for them and not take their paycheque.”

That business philosophy has paid off as a world leader in the music field.

Few competitors worldwide compare. In the U.S. Guitar Center has 200 stores, Long says while citing Sweet Water south of the border as a comparable competitor.

In Europe the top player is Thomann, but it only has one location as its sales are concentrated on the internet.

The Gravenhurst location is “pretty big, but some of our stores are not that big,” says Long.

“We try to be fully omni channel. So you can see it on our website and buy it in the store; see it on the website and come into the store for service; see it on the website and have it delivered to your house. We try to make it a fully seamless integration.”

Internet sales still only account for 5 to 10 per cent of L&M’s sales, says Long.

“We do so much in store and we have so many stores. We try to make our stores nice so people come in.”
And come in they did opening day, with hundreds streaming through an entrance, festooned with orange and black balloons, throughout the day to browse and buy.

Former Gravenhurst piano maestro Dan McCoy is back in town by appointment teaching piano and keyboards at L&M. He touted several young protoges like he once was, while giving lessons to them throughout opening day.

Said store manager Kristopher Boaro: “A lot of people walked out” with guitars and musical gear. “Some even paid,” he joked.

Guitar sales account for a little under 40 per cent of the chain’s sales, says Long, who estimated about 10 to 12 to 15 per cent of its sales are from its four large GTA stores.

Long acknowledged the big Cosmos Music Superstore in Richmond Hill: “They have a good operation — their’s is a single location.”

He says the market is big enough for both. “Yeah, I think, you know they’re OK.

“We’re probably 60 to 70 per cent of the Canadian industry. But there’s still 40 per cent to go around for other stores.”

Looking around his new store there were plenty of musicians of all ages — aspiring and seasoned — plucking and playing and drumming up business for the Long family, establishing and re-establishing those lifelong connections with Muskoka’s new music mecca.

And with an evolving industry that is embracing digital sounds and recording equipment with beat boxes, electro drums and Star Wars synthesizers the future was on display in L&M’s new store.

“Recording at home now is better than back in a studio in 1980s,” concludes Long.

Twenty of the 50 members of Muskoka-wide H11 Ukulele Band played and sang at a noon concert performance.
Prize draws and giveaways were part of the fun of listening to music and shopping.
Guitars galore – accoustic, electric, four- and seven-string – were available for players to pluck and play.

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