Newark's 'Martin Music' set to close up shop after 71 years in business

Doug Baker, co-owner of Martin Music in Newark, sits behind a grand piano in his shop on 21st Street. The store plans to close its doors July 31. (WBNS)

NEWARK, Ohio — The music is coming to an end at Martin Music in Newark.

"Music stores are magic places," said current co-owner Doug Baker. "When you see a kid’s face light up when he realizes he can play music, it’s just the most heartwarming thing in the world, and that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ve been trying to do this."

Baker's love for music started decades ago. And he can still remember his dreams starting to bloom while standing in a music store at age 18.

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"(I thought), you know, one of these days, I’d like to retire behind the counter of a music store," he said. "So, this has been my dream, you know."

That dream started to become reality when Baker and his partner took over the shop seven years ago.

But recent years brought some financial missteps, a new space with a higher overhead and personnel turnover. Eventually, the financial burden was just too much.

"When we had to move three years ago, I decided it was time to go all or nothing, and we put it all in, and it’s just not worked out," he said. "You know, there’s a point where you have to put the shovel down and stop digging the hole you’re in, and that’s where I am."

On Sunday, the shop posted on Facebook that it would be closing its doors on July 31. The post thanked customers and called the closing an end of an era.

Customers flooded the post with comments and memories.

"So sad to hear about the closing," one user wrote. "A lot of memories when the store was in the Arcade. We would hang out and listen to 45s during our lunch hour from high school. Mr. Martin was always nice to put up with us."

Many who commented described generations of families visiting the store.

"My dad ordered his dream guitar there in 1966," one user wrote. "It was a Martin D-18. He enjoyed it all of his days, and now I am playing it, and one day it will go to my son!"

The first Martin Music Center opened in May 1948 in the old Lingafelter Castle at 2nd and Church Streets. in September 1951, owner Wayne Martin the store moved to the downtown Arcade.

Later, the shop moved to Southgate in Heath, then to a spot on 21st Street before finally ending up in its current location down the street.

On Friday, Barry Hensley stopped in for what could have been his final time in the store.

He started learning to play piano at the age of 6. By the time he was a teenager, his connection to the music store was sealed.

"I started teaching for Wayne Martin at Martin Music when I was 15 years old," he said. "My mother drove me on Saturdays and I started teaching."

These days, Hensley is still teaching in Johnstown. And he was devastated to hear the store was closing. He likened it to a family member dying.

"It’s really sad to see," he said. "I just couldn’t believe the news that they were going to go out of business. It just really took me aback."

Also visiting the store on Friday was Marie Nichols. She was looking for a few instruments to take with her to India. She has been a customer at the shop for roughly 30 years. She spends time traveling all over the world to deliver instruments to help other teachers spread their love of music.

"I don’t know what we’ll do next, but the Lord will provide something," she said.

For Paul Richards, the news has been especially hard to accept.

"It’s just going to be such a sad situation," he said. "I don’t even know how I feel about it. I’m still in shock, quite honestly."

The drum teacher has taught his students via rental space at Martin Music for 19 years. He says the shop will leave behind an empty space in the area, both literally and figuratively.

"Some of us will probably remember this as maybe one of the greatest times in our lives," he said. "People always knew that this place was around, and to see it going away, it’s really sad, it really is. It’s a loss. I think it’s a loss, I really do, and I feel it. I feel it in my heart and my soul."

Richards does see some hope on the horizon though. He and a few of the other teachers will now be teaching classes out of the Earthwork Recording Studio on the courthouse square in downtown Newark. Bill Isenhart, who performed instrument repairs in the shop, also will be continuing that service elsewhere.

As for Baker, he now wants to spend more time on his own music. He also hopes to work at another music shop someday, this time, earning the paychecks instead of writing them.

"Music and my faith are the two things, you know, this has been a ministry for me. I drive up from Zanesville every day and I say my rosary on the way to work every morning ‘cause this has been my ministry," he said. "Music will never leave me. It’s God’s greatest gift, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s proof there is God."

There is an online fundraising effort to try to raise money to save the store. Baker says he does not think it can raise enough to save the shop, but he is holding on to a glimmer of hope.

If the effort does raise enough to meet the goal but not enough to save the shop, he says he plans to donate the money to the teachers who will be continuing on with their students elsewhere.

Find the GoFundMe page here.