Most of the things from my childhood are gone. Even the things from my children’s childhood are already gone. The strawberry fields in Southern California where I rode my bike are now a gas station. The open lots in Kauai where my children saw whales breach from our car window as we drove down the highway are now condominium developments; and the whales are only seen by the tourists who pay. There was a time before I had children, in between the strawberry fields and the whales, when I lived in Tucson, AZ. During that time there was a music store called Chicago Music Store.
Chicago Music Store has been family owned and operated in Tucson since 1912. I wasn’t alive in 1912, but in 1996 I got married in Tombstone, AZ. In my early 20’s in Tucson, everything in life was new to me. All experiences were equally entertaining and meaningful if not for any other reason than being new. I didn’t know what to appreciate in life, let alone a music store.
Chicago Music Store had a lot of stuff back then, stuff I didn’t know too much about because I wasn’t a “real musician.” The staff let me play around with most of it, answered my questions, and treated me like royalty for my teeny tiny purchases, which mostly consisted of self teaching books.
I considered myself a transient back then, in Tucson and in life. In my mind I liked to create each day as a short story, becoming a variety of characters, with genres ranging from slapstick to drama to dark comedy. I spent my time in pawnshops, collecting guitars, perusing music stores, supporting local bands, and wandering throughout towns in Arizona, Colorado, California, and Hawaii, then I left, and then I forgot about them, including Tucson and the Chicago Music Store because I never looked back.
Skip ahead to August 2011. I have an almost normal life, no roots yet, still mostly gypsy, three children, and a time-share in Tucson of all places. When I visit, I golf and never leave the resort. This time, I needed to find a Bank of America; and as I drove down Congress St., I saw Chicago Music Store.
It was with vague familiarity that I stopped near the intersection and looked at the drum kits in the window. I’m not sure if there was a street light or if it was red or green. The kids asked to look at guitars; and I said, “No, they only have drums.” Seriously, I said that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The window display haunted me for a full 24 hours and so the next day, the kids and I ventured to downtown Tucson with the single purpose of visiting Chicago Music Store. I walked in and was immediately greeted by the same staff that was there the year I got married in Tombstone. I’ve been divorced, remarried, and divorced again since then. Moses has been an employee for 16 years and Michael has been there for 26 years. It was surreal.
My kids are somewhat of instrument hoarders. They have an upright piano, electric keyboard, drum kits, hand drums, trumpets, harmonicas, acoustic guitars, violins, and ukuleles. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. They immediately loved the place and for a few minutes refrained from running around inappropriately. I didn’t know what to say. Rarely have I been able to take my children to a place that existed in the life I had before they were born. Rarely have I gone to a place that brought back a flood of unexpected memories.
I walked passed a boneyard of violins and cases. I snapped a few pictures. I walked upstairs. I took in the whirling sounds of the ceiling fans while my son started begging for D.J. equipment. The smell upstairs is somewhere in between Grandma’s attic and Dad’s garage. It’s an awesome smell. If I could get a candle with that smell, it would be awesome, but probably only to me.
My kids wanted to stay all day. They started coming up with ideas to make money and Christmas present wish lists. Watching their enthusiasm I had a moment when I felt like a good parent. I’m so grateful that they appreciate the wonder and possibility of creation that the Chicago Music Store can inspire and provide.
When it was time to leave, Moses was as friendly as a human being can be. I didn’t shake his hand because I wanted to hug him, but of course I didn’t because I didn’t want to freak him out. I didn’t want to freak my kids out either.
I intended to write this article about the instruments, sheet music, rentals, repairs, etc. offered at Chicago Music Store. In case that’s the information you are seeking, I assure you the selection is worthwhile. After 20 years in sales and marketing, I am an absolute customer service snob and very hard to impress. I can’t say enough kind things about the courtesy and service I’ve received at the Chicago Music Store.
I highly recommend visiting Chicago Music Store. It is more than just the best guitar shop in Tucson. It’s a time capsule, a landmark, an institution and a family tradition.