Entrepreneur lanches online guitar store in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — One day last month, in his storefront on Seymour Street, musician Bill Schafer, the man who once founded Otter Music and then Burlington’s Advanced Music, pulled a shiny acoustic guitar — a 2014 Guild — from the spot where it hung on the wall.
“It’s a beautiful guitar,” Schafer said, plucking a few strings that reverberated a clear, rich sound. “Guild is an American icon. They’ve been around for a long time.”
Shafer bought the guitar — normally listed at $2,800 — from MIRC, a company that receives rejected guitars from brands like Guild, Fender, Epiphone and Taylor. MIRC’s authorized repair team refurbishes the instruments, ensuring that the guitars are not compromised structurally and that their sound is as full-bodied as new.
By working with MIRC, and through his own independent shopping, Schafer has expanded his collection to more than 50 guitars.
He plans to sell the Guild guitar for $1,132 — less than half price. The guitar, along with all of his others, will be available on a site called The Guitar Store (theguitarstore.com), which Schafer will launch in the coming weeks.
The Guild acoustic has a tiny gap in the binding split at the base of the guitar, but it was filled in by MIRC’s repair team.
 “It’s imperceptible,” Schafer said. “There are no structural issues — it doesn’t affect the quality of the guitar.” 
Schafer doesn’t think guitarists will be discouraged by the small cosmetic details that separate the guitars from their new, market-price cousins.
“Guitar players are so fluid in their acquisitions. They have something that’s a better deal — it’s not like a car, where it’s been driven and worn out,” he said.
Schafer plans to operate primarily online, where he will mainly sell guitars he has refurbished himself. His storefront opened just last month, enabling visitors to browse the growing collection of acoustic and electric guitars. He’ll also use the physical space for the repair side of his business, and to sell strings and smaller items, but the store is mostly a home-base for the businessman to tend to his website.  
Schafer says he’s planning to keep the operation fairly low-key, but in a world with eBay, Amazon and many other independent online music shops, he’s entering a competitive market.
He’s not totally on his own, though. After placing an ad, he hired Fabien Rainville, a 27-year-old who lives north of Middlebury and has agreed to design the website.
“He’s really computer savvy,” Schafer said.
With the help, Schafer’s confident he has what it takes to build an online presence.
“I probably have at least above average knowledge, because I owned a store that’s been on the other side of this equation. I know how the companies work and how the dealers work and the pricing, so that gives me pretty good insight.”
The new platform is not Schafer’s first round with the music business. He opened his first music shop, called Otter Music, in 1983. After a year, he picked up and moved to Burlington, where he renamed the store Advance Music. The store is still the largest in the state.
Schafer left Advance Music in the late ’90s and subsequently became involved in a variety of entrepreneurial adventures. He owned a greenhouse with a farm and creemee stand, then bought the Marquis Theater in Middlebury 10 years ago, which he upgraded and sold in February. Having grown up in a family that owned many different small businesses, Schafer said he easily becomes restless staying in one place for too long.
“There were a lot of other things that interested me,” he said. “I couldn’t see myself doing one thing my whole life.”
In February, after selling the Marquis, Schafer took a vacation. With his dog and a friend, he traveled around the country. During that time, he visited a few friends who owned music shops, which led him back to his passion for music.
By opening this new music store, Schafer, 59, is completing a full circle that started 48 years ago when he first began to play guitar. At 11, he taught himself to play by sitting on the edge of his bed with his first guitar, a Hagstrom, listening to the Allman Brothers.
Now, Schafer can be found playing at 51 Main’s Blues Night in Middlebury on the third Wednesday of each month. Restless as he may be, music seems to have rooted Schafer to the community, and to his new online platform, which he predicts will last.
“I guess by default, I’m doing this,” he said.
The Guitar Store will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, on Fridays from noon to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from noon until 4 p.m. His website, the guitarstore.com, will be live in the coming weeks.

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