Every month the music industry trade magazine “Music and Sound Retailer” publishes a story about a mystery shopper they send around to stores all over the US. The shopper is called MI Spy, and last month he (or she) visited Northampton to check out the music scene here. Downtown Sounds was one of four stores featured, and I’m very please to say that we came out on top and won the spy’s endorsement. Here is the part of the article about us:
There’s a reason why Downtown Sounds has been awarded “Best Musical instrument shop in the Pioneer Valley” by the local Valley Advocate this year and, judging by the award stickers on the wall, nearly every other year for the past few decades. (This year, Luthier’s Co-op won second place in the same contest, and Gerry’s Music Shop took third.)
Downtown Sounds opened in the ’70s, and it has been an integral part of Northampton’s music scene ever since. During my visit to the shop, customers poured in and out of the store, many staying longer than I did, and tested out the vast selection of instruments. From floor to ceiling, the store is lined with guitars, bass guitars, drum sets, accessories and, yes, ukuleles.Downtown Sounds is one of the larger stores I visited, similar in size to Gerry’s. I was greeted by one of the two store employees behind the counter, and I told them both my mission.They pointed me to where a handful of ukuleles were hanging on the wall. I walked over and, at the recommendation of one of the employees, picked up a Kala tenor travel ukulele, listed at $259.The body was one of the thinnest I’ve ever seen on a ukulele, which, the man said, is what makes it travel-sized. Even though the body was nearly half the width of the others, it still had a nice sound. It also, of course, was incredibly light. The employee also pulled out two others he recommended, made in the U.SA. by Massachusetts-based company Fluke.They were listed at $229. A large, circular opening on the head of the ukes near the tuning instruments helps add more depth to the bass and the overall sound of the instrument, the man told me. Indeed, they both had a rich sound, especially for a ukulele. The one drawback to the Flukes, I was told,is that they have plastic frets instead of metal, and they could become worn over time.Still, he told me, “I’ve played $1,000 ukuleles that didn’t sound that much better than these. They really have a nice sound, and they’re a local company.” Their appearance was interesting, too; both bodies were unusual shapes, and the front of the bodies were painted different colors. I was really impressed by the employee knowledge. Clearly, they’re passionate about music and the instruments they sell, and they were able to tell me all kinds of fine details about the pros and cons of each instrument. It seemed to me like their top priority wasn’t making a sale but, rather, making sure I found the best possible instrument for my needs.There were plenty of stools and quiet side rooms to try out the instruments, and it was a pleasure to browse through the selection in peace and to ask for help when I needed it.
The greater Northampton area is a fun, artsy place to visit, as were the music stores I shopped.Judging by the stores’overall selections and customer service, my two favorites were Downtown Sounds and Gerry’s Music Shop. It’s hard to pick between the two, but I’d have to award the final sale to Downtown Sounds for its vibe, exceptionally knowledgeable staff and expansive selection. A music lover could spend all day in that store, which is what I intend to do the next time I return.
If you’d like to read the full article, here’s a link: http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/507100a7#/507100a7/36. Enjoy.