Jim Tooher wasn't always a small business owner: he once was a computer technician with IBM who repaired key punch machines. And he wasn't always a musician: he said he wasn't exposed to music much as a young man and only learned to play guitar when in college.
But in 1986, he and business partner Debbie Biglin bought a long-standing business then called Heywood's Music in East Setauket, and re-introduced it to the community as Three Village Music Shoppe.
Surviving through rough spots when the economy dips or the competition rises, the business is now entering its 27th year. According to Tooher, a 14-year resident of Medford, the biggest change has been the internet.
"People buying things online ... has become so prevalent that it’s cut into the retail end of our business," he said.
While people do like to hold musical instruments in their hands before making a purchase, that's not what is hurting the business the most. "Sheet music and books, even though they have to pay shipping on them, that’s the biggest end of it," Tooher said.
That's where the other parts of the business come in: In addition to selling instruments and sheet music, Three Village Music Shoppe also offers music lessons and instrument repairs. The 2,700-square-foot store features four music studios and a full repair shop in addition to the retail space. The shop employs eight part-time music teachers who offer lessons in vocal technique and nearly every instrument commonly found in orchestras and bands; about 60 to 80 students take lessons there each week. Their business to a degree relies on the local school districts' music programs: the store rents approximately 600 instruments per year and sells the sheet music that students and teachers often use in the classrooms.
Tooher teaches some lessons and does all the repairs.
"I’d say it took me five years till I was perfectly set on instruments and I said I could fix everything," he said. "I did have to learn to play several instruments to be able to test them out. ... I really enjoy doing repairs."
He and his wife Barbara Aragon in 2005 started a nonprofit organization called Music Without Borders, in which they travel to South Africa to teach music to children in the tribal community of Kwanokuthula.
Tooher said he feels fortunate to be able to have a business with such longevity.
"When you start a business you never know what’s going to happen," he said. "Twenty-seven years later, it’s been a very enjoyable, rewarding experience."
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