Taxes Are Just an Excuse

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2015-12-27 – I had a couple of interesting experiences last week while I was shopping for a gift for my wife Kit.

The main portion of the gift I found entirely online: piano lessons. I messaged my sons’ old piano teacher through Facebook and asked her if she could recommend someone (since she no longer does this). Then I emailed the recommended teacher and worked out a time for the first lesson, etc. The teacher told me to get a certain music book. I first looked for the book online, but I wasn’t sure about the book, so I went out to do some in-the-store shopping.

I first went to a piano store. I was sullenly greeted by a man who started off complaining that the tax situation with online sales made him unable to compete. I was a little taken aback as I hadn’t even given him the title of the book yet. He sensed that (miracle of miracles) and grudgingly agreed to look up the title in his inventory. It seemed that I had interrupted some vital chit-chat he was having with a colleague. There were no customers in the store other than me. He told me he didn’t have the book. I mentioned that I liked his show room of pianos and that I once had a chance to get a Steinway. He told me that Steinways are no longer so great. Gosh! Who asked you? I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough. (I won’t tell you where this place is. There are so few music stores left, I don’t want to undermine even a crappy store. Maybe he’ll learn, one day.)

Then I remembered a store in East Rogers Park where my son and I used to take guitar lessons. They had piano music. So I drove over there. I arrived just before opening time and was about to leave, but the owner (who I recognized from before) waved me in. I told her the name of the book I was looking for. She looked it up on the computer and said she didn’t have it, but she didn’t complain about taxes. Instead, she said, “would you like me to order one for you?” I like to patronize local merchants, so I said yes. Then I mentioned to her that my wife might want to get some other easy piano books. So she took me to her display to show me what she had.

After seeing the display, I said, maybe it would be better for me to bring my wife in to pick something for herself. But then I said that I needed some work done on my guitar. What did she think? She told me a plan for fixing the problem. Her repair guy overheard the conversation and came out to confirm her suggestion. Then she said, “when you come to pick up the music you ordered, you can bring in your guitar.” It sounded good. I gave her my phone number so she could call when it arrived. And that is what I will do.

Do you notice a difference between these two merchants? One was complaining about taxes and eager to get back to his personal conversation. (The tax situation he was referring to was actually changed several years ago and shouldn’t be a problem anymore. It shouldn’t have even been a problem before, but I’m not going to argue that.) The second merchant was friendly and helpful and one piece of business led to another.

Now, you might say that the first merchant knew the extreme unlikelihood of my going from a $12 sheet music purchase to a $25,000 piano purchase. And, yes, that’s true. But it is also true that I bought my very first piano in exactly that way—from a place I went for sheet music. (A store that is no longer around, alas.)

You might also say that I got better service in the second store because the owner knew me. To which I might reply: that’s exactly my point! But I won’t, because she didn’t recognize me right away. It’s been a number of years. This is just how she treats customers.

Now, I’ll tell you the name of the shop. It’s Flatts and Sharpe Music Company on Sheridan Road. She bought the store five or six or eight years ago. The previous owner ran a sullen shop. Customers were a pain. Stock was always low. Etc. Chris (the current owner) started offering music lessons. She was friendly. She slowly remodeled the place. She reached out to the community. Kids’ (and adults’) recitals became concerts. It was great. At a time when music stores are being overrun either by online or megastores, Chris recently expanded and opened a second store in Norwood Park.

For the other fellow, taxes are just an excuse, not the real reason he’s not doing well.

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