SHERIDAN — Shelly Morris began playing the piano in third grade. Her life has evolved around music ever since, including professionally.
After teaching music for a few pressure-filled years, Morris decided to try her hand at something else: a music shop. More than 20 years later, Morris Music Store & Studio continues to stay in business on South Main Street.
Morris is the sole proprietor and has never had another employee, which is emblematic of the various music stores around town. There are a few music options, most of which are small, independent and offer several types of services, including music lessons and the renting, purchasing and repairing of musical instruments.
“You gotta do it all,” Morris said. “If there was even one of those things that I didn’t do, it wouldn’t balance out.”
At CB Music & Repair Guy, co-owners Gary and Jeannene McKnight — who were both previously teachers as well — are the only two employees. The store opened about six months after Morris started her shop. It started with Gary McKnight repairing instruments from home before the couple moved into its location on North Main Street shortly after. They have been there ever since.
Memphis Blues Amps owner Rick Davis started his business five years ago, shortly before moving to Sheridan. Davis has a different model than the other two stores. While Morris and CB aim to be one-stop shops, Davis works in the niche market of blues harmonica amplifiers.
Memphis Blues Amps doesn’t have a physical location — Davis works from home — and business is done online. Davis said he has sold about 1,100 total amps to 42 countries on five continents.
He also sells a blues pedal and is developing a microphone.
Davis picked up the blues harmonica at age 20 when he was hitchhiking through the Pacific Northwest. He met a guy in Washington who played, and Davis immediately fell in love with the sound.
“We’re walking down a dusty road, trying to get a ride,” Davis said. “I hear this music, and I turn around and he has pulled out this harmonica. First he plays these blues riffs, and I was stunned by how cool it was … I was just blown away.”
Shortly after, Davis purchased his own instrument. He was a part-time blues musician over the years but now works full time on his business.
For Morris, her store is more than a busy job; it is essentially her life. The shop is open six days per week and Morris currently teaches individual lessons to 22 people throughout the week. She has taught as many as 45 people at the same time and once taught guitar to an 84-year-old man for a few months. One of her more memorable experiences occurred when a college student asked to purchase a didgeridoo and bull roar.
CB Music is also open six days per week. Gary McKnight said the business gets about half of its sales from repair work and half from store purchases. He repairs nearly every instrument under the sun, including a Chinese bassoon.
There have been tough times along the way, but Jeannene McKnight was surprised with the amount of growth in the business over the years.
“It’s exciting that the community has sought us out,” she said.
The McKnights work with several distributors around the country for their inventory, as does Morris. Guitar strings are the most popular item at CB Music and are near the top at Morris Music as well. August and September are the busiest months of the year, along with Christmastime.
For Davis, business picks up around the holidays as well.
Despite doing all business online, Davis said shipping costs aren’t too bad. He hasn’t had any issues with amps being damaged en route, either, despite the materials traveling to far-flung locales like Belgium, Japan and New Zealand.
Customers are sometimes skeptical of Davis’ low prices, and he said brand tribalism can be challenging as well.
“It gets pretty vicious, but it just goes with the territory,” Davis said.
Overall, the business owners aren’t in the music market for massive profits. They instead want to provide a service that means something to them and hopefully their customers.
“I make varying amounts of money,” Davis said. “Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. It’s really not about the money. It’s about staying busy and staying involved.”
Similarly, despite the demands of owning a small business, Morris has never thought about going back to teaching over the past two decades. She hopes to own the store for 30 more years, 50 years in all.
“I don’t make a lot, but I love what I’m doing,” Morris said. “That’s all that matters.”
And as long as locals keep trickling through their doors or buying items online, being a small business owner is music to their ears.