Island Music on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, is a true labor of love for owner Ed Griggs. A longtime musician and music lover, Mr. Griggs makes his living through his construction businesses — Ed Griggs Builder and Island Door and Window — and keeps the music store alive through the profits from his other Island businesses. Although he often does work tuning, repairing and rebuilding pianos, Mr. Griggs is rarely in the store, having turned those duties over to his valued staff. His plan is to settle into running the store once he has stepped down from the construction business. “I’m saving it for when I retire,” says Mr. Griggs. “So I have somewhere to go every day.”
How long has the store been around?
Since 1991. We’ve moved around quite a bit. I started out at the old Hancock Hardware Building across from the gas station. Then we were at Ralph Packer’s building — the one that moved, and then in Ernie Boch’s place for a couple of years. We were on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs for a while before settling here.
What do you sell?
Guitars are No. 1 — electric, acoustic, basses. We also sell a lot of ukuleles. We have a wide array of percussion and drum gear. We sell pianos and keyboards. We also carry all kinds of sound gear, stage gear, mics, accessories, headphones, amps, and speakers. We carry sheet music for classical and modern, song books, instruction books.
Andy Herr (employee, musician, and teacher) adds: We like to offer as many local CDs as possible. One of my missions is to encourage people to record and sell their music in the shop. Visitor are often interested in what local musicians on the Island are doing.
What services do you offer?
Instrument rentals, lessons — piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo and voice, piano repair and tuning. We also do consignments of used instruments.
How long have you been on-Island, and how did you end up here?
I’ve been here for 45 years. I was about 20 when I moved here. I had a friend who came up to work on a house, and I did some painting for him in the wintertime. I camped out in the woods. My first job was washing dishes at the Black Dog.
What other type of work have you done in the past?
I worked in a pickle factory for a while. I worked on shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico. I hopped trains and traveled around Canada. Back then, 40 years ago, they didn’t really care if you rode the rails.
What inspired you to open a music store?
At the time there was no music store here. I was trying to buy reeds for my saxophone. I went to Boston, and just for a joke I asked Elio at Rayburn Music if he would give me a bunch of instruments and I would go back to the Island and sell them. He agreed, and I packed my van, went back to the Island. And I sold them at the old Hancock Building, where I was set up rebuilding pianos. I had a good street location, and the instruments sold. We had a good relationship with Rayburn for a while, and then I started opening up a few accounts, and did consignment at first.
What’s the most challenging thing about running a business on the Island?
Competing with online retail. People automatically think we’re going to be more expensive. We’ll match online prices. If something breaks, we’ll take care of it. We stand by our products. We only sell things that we know are good quality. People can keep the music store alive on-Island by supporting us. I believe in supporting the community. I always buy here if I can. The arts and music are important aspects of the Vineyard community that we need to keep going.
How have things changed over the years?
The culture is leaning away from music. It’s become a fast-paced culture where people have to be entertained constantly. It’s a challenge for a kid to latch onto music. They don’t have the patience. It’s all about instant gratification. It’s kind of sad that the kids are being dragged away by video games instead of playing the guitar.
How many employees do you have?
Four: Becky Williams is the manager and teaches singing and piano. Andy Herr works in the store, and teaches guitar, ukulele, and piano; Lucy Mayhew works in the store. Will Pfluger teaches guitar and uke. This is by far the best overall staff I’ve ever had.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job in the music store?
One of the most fun things is when kids come in with their parents to rent an instrument. When they first open up the case I like to see the expression on their face. I love selling guitars. I think it’s just adding to people’s lives. Singing and playing music brings you closer to the Lord. Playing music is a really healing thing.
What are some of the more interesting things that you carry?
(answered by Andy Herr) We have a huge collection of Native American flutes on sale from the William Waterway estate. He had close to 100 handmade flutes. Some are very high-quality and valuable, others are more affordable. He also had pan flutes and a didgeridoo. My favorite recent aquisition was an oud — an 11-string Middle Eastern instrument. We only had it in the shop for a couple of days before it sold. People sometimes bring in very old wooden instruments. People will go through their family estate, and they’ll find some sort of interesting antique in the basement.
What are some of the new things you’re trying out?
(answered by Andy Herr) We just started doing open mic nights every other Tuesday. It’s been really successful. I started out by having a couple of workshops — one with Mike Kerr demonstrating effect pedals, then a flamenco workshop. The next one I’ll be teaming up with Anthony Esposito to demonstrate finger-style playing. We also had a pop-up shop on Earth Day, with locals selling artwork and jewelry, and the Maniacs of the Heart played in the window.
What do you feel grateful about?
God has been very good to me in my life. When I came to the Island, I was washing dishes and camping out, and He has brought me so many friends and family. I always put Him first.
What do you like about the Vineyard?
I think it’s a really friendly place. I love the vacationers. I have the opposite feeling of most people who don’t like tourists. I love meeting new people. I’m happy to stop and give people directions and let people in on things they might not know about the Island.
What do you like to do with your spare time?
In the summertime my wife and I go to the beach. We bring a barbecue and stay on the beach till the stars come out.