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Whenever a Wal-Mart or Home Depot rolls into a town, it often sweeps away the independently owned and operated retailers who served those communities,

Whenever a Wal-Mart or Home Depot rolls into a town, it often sweepsaway the independently owned and operated retailers who served thosecommunities, often several generations’ worth. And when a pro audio/MIsuperstore moves into the outskirts of town, local music storesexperience what their counterparts in hardware, pharmacies and booksales have already gone through.

Hewgley’s Music opened in Nashville in 1956 and stood in the samedowntown location all of its 43 years-until last September, that is.This past fall, co-owner Jim Broadus, who had started working there asa clerk in 1962 for store founder J.G. Stone and who had purchased thebusiness from Stone in 1983, announced the store’s closure. Broadusattributed the decision to a number of factors, including Nashville’srapid growth, which has virtually eliminated free parking downtown(“Who’s going to pay $10 for parking to buy a $5 set of strings?” hemuses), as well as the closing of Opryland last year. But at least halfof the decision is attributable to the arrival in 1997 of ThoroughbredMusic, with MARS moving in the following year.

“It’s not a level playing field anymore,” says Broadus, who assertsthat the superstores can buy wholesale from manufacturers atsignificantly deeper discounts than any independent retailer can. “Theyget a much better cost basis when they buy in those kinds ofvolumes.”

But that phenomenon is doing more than just changing the rules; it’salso changing the very fabric of the manufacturer-retailerrelationship. “The manufacturer’s rep is becoming an endangeredspecies,” say Broadus. “The superstores can make one phone call fromtheir corporate headquarters and supply 22 stores simultaneously. Therelationship between the retailer and the rep is no longer going toexist, and that means that the kind of hands-on knowledge aboutequipment that reps could convey one-on-one with retail sales peopleisn’t going to be there anymore. And that will hurt the customer in thelong run.”

Broadus is not angry with the superstores, saying that it’s areality affecting numerous other retail sectors. However, he cautionsthat customers may be trading price for service wherever it happens.And in the musically dense environment of Nashville, he specificallynotes that the city’s musician base is crowded with endorsers who oftenundercut the retailers. “You have thousands of people in Nashville whoendorse everything from guitar strings to guitar straps,” Broadus says.”I used to design sound systems for Opry performers, and after I spec’dout a system for them, they’d say, ‘See you later, Jim,’ and go rightto Peavey and buy the components direct for less. Gibson and Fenderboth have offices in Nashville just to handle all their endorsers. Ithas a big effect on sales here, and I don’t think the chains havefigured that one out yet.”

Broadus, who expected to take a sales position with a major MImanufacturer after the store closed, had one prediction for the futureof pro audio/MI retail: “In five years, one of them won’t be here.”