Loud & Clear Music in Cotati: A Store Even the Recession Couldn’t Kill

After 30 years in business, Frank Hayhurst reluctantly closed Zone Music in August 2010. But the location at 7886 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, California has continued to be such a strong magnet for musicians throughout Sonoma County that former Zone employees are now operating in the same space as Loud & Clear Music.

There are two reasons why Zone Music didn’t fade away when its owner decided to call it quits. The first is that Frank Hayhurst had honed a near-perfect business model for a local store in the era of “big box” retail.

The first time I showed up at Zone, I was carrying a custom Strat that I wanted to sell on consignment. Frank was busy running his annual “garage sale” behind the store. This annual event was a chance to clear out the real losers from the store’s inventory – but also for anyone who had unused gear to show up and offer it for sale. By inviting local bands and musicians, Zone built word of mouth and traffic for the event, and gained tons of good will. In the middle of all this, Frank took time out to check out my axe, discuss the market, and come to an agreement. When I went back a few months later to pick up my check, the transaction was equally smooth.

The other reason Zone, I mean Loud & Clear, couldn’t go away is that the strip mall on Old Redwood Highway in Cotati is home to a cluster of related businesses. There’s Zone Recording, a separate business that shares the name of the old music store and has the same co-op agreement with Loud & Clear. If you book a session at Zone, you can bring in anything from the store to try out in the studio: guitars, amps, keyboards, whatever. Frank knew that there’s no demo like a studio demo, and that players fall in love with the instruments that made their recording unique. Loud & Clear’s manager Neville Hormuz sees the wisdom in that strategy. Although his original business plan was just to keep the audiovisual installation part of Zone’s business going, Hormuz couldn’t ignore the musicians who kept asking about the retail operation.

Loud & Clear re-stocked Zone’s retail space a year ago. Backstage Service, a repair shop, and Amazing Records are also neighbors, so this little strip mall in Cotati truly offers one-stop shopping, whether you’re looking for professional audiovisual installations, musical equipment, recording time, repairs and customization, or just a rare piece of vinyl to sample. The music business and the economy may be on the skids, but the communal spirit of music-making still rings Loud & Clear at this local store.

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