By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE-Like music, life has its high notes and its low notes.
The first time he stepped away from his career as a school band director and music teacher more than a decade ago, Ken Crombie built the most successful “Learning Center” in the U.S. for the Denver location of the nation’s largest provider of private music lessons, Mars Music.
“I was the king of private music lessons,” laughed Crombie. “I’m not a corporate guy, but I was loving it. We had 500 students a week, consistently. The company was flying me around the country–I was a celebrity! Then 9-11 happened, the bottom dropped out of things, and the company went under. It sure was a fun place to be, but that was the end of Mars Music.
“So I renewed my license, and went back to teaching school.”
Crombie, who now owns Montrose Music at 7 South Townsend, has experienced first-hand many of the vagaries of the economy over the past decade. As a drummer and professional music educator, his career has been focused on sharing a love for jazz with young people in communities across Colorado–and attempting, without success, to stay one step ahead of budget cuts to fine arts programs.
Today, if you need just about anything musical–from quality musical instruments that will stand the test of time, to sheet music, vinyl or even a Quilter Amp (Crombie is the only dealer in Colorado to carry the Quilter brand)–you can find it right here on South Townsend. And that’s the whole point. Because now that he has a successful business of his own, Crombie wants to make things easier for local players and their parents.
“I want to give parents a local choice,” he said. “We are a full-service music store–nobody needs to go to Grand Junction for anything, because we have it here.”
As a parent himself, Crombie knows how important quality and service can be when it comes to choosing a band instrument.
“I was a teacher for more than 20 years, and have directed middle school and high school bands across the state,” Crombie said, noting that he and his wife–who grew up in Montrose–moved back to the area in 2007 after budget cuts hit the band program in Steamboat Springs where Crombie had been working. Later, after losing his job in a departmental consolidation in the Ouray School District, Crombie found himself once again hitting the streets in search of a paycheck. An attempt to break into another industry cost him his pension fund, so the stakes were high.
“My career was over, my wife was working part-time, and our unemployment was running out,” he recalled. “But it seems like any time three doors would close for me, one would open.”
At that point, Crombie–who had previously spoken with the former occupant of 7 South Townsend, Mesa Music owner John Crouch, about leasing space to open a lesson studio–went to Crouch with the idea of applying for a teaching job.
“We had never been able to come terms about leasing,” Crombie said. “And when I re-introduced myself and applied for a job, he offered me $10 an hour. I told him I needed at least $15, and he said, ‘let me think about it.’”
A week passed, and Crouch called Crombie and asked him to meet.
“And that was when he told me that he wanted out, that the building was for sale, and that he wanted me to buy the business,” Crombie said. With support from Crouch, who carried the building loan, and independent, private financing for his inventory, the former “private lesson king” suddenly found himself back in business.
“John told me, ‘you can do this.’” Crombie said. “We were destitute! I never thought it would happen. But I bought the building, the store and the music studio in July of 2012. When school started that fall, some local band directors put our business on the web site as a local option for parents. And the first week of August, we had a line around the block.
“Three months after we opened, we broke through the dividing wall and built a studio; today we are doing very well–word is getting out.”
Sandy Head and Montrose Economic development Corporation (MEDC) have been very supportive as well, Crombie said.
“Sandy helped us navigate the city sign code–she has really been amazing for us,” he said.
The store offers a full lesson studio in addition to instrument rental and sales, and Crombie hopes to eventually expand to Delta, open a local recording studio, and do more musical composition for school bands.
“When I was a band director I was constantly re-arranging music,” he said. “So my next goal is to compose music for middle school bands.”
Crombie has applied for a Mission Main Street grant to further expand the business, and finds himself adding new lines of merchandise regularly.
“It has always been about the quality of the music,” he said. “The main thing I have learned is that people wanted this kind of a store here.”
The recent announcement that local singer, songwriter and musician Yvonne Meek intends to open a jazz club upstairs in her Masonic Building in coming months is one that Crombie believes will elevate the arts scene in Montrose.
“I am really excited about that,” he said. “I really want to help in any way I can–I love jazz.”
Montrose Music specializes in new and used instruments, rentals and repairs and private music lessons. The store can be reached at 249-4599, or online at montrosemusicstore.com