Jim Uding has been busy. He has been a bit tough to get a hold of lately, and he admits it. He's sorry about it. "I apologize," Uding says. He sighs. "I'm knee-deep in ending my business."
The business is Drum Headquarters, a community music staple where he used to greet customers with a grin. He sounds almost wistful and then changes paces rapidly in an understandable confession: "You know what? I've told a lot of stories about this recently, and I think I need to pass this time. Is that OK?"
The last two weeks have found the store's owner, Uding, and a stable sphere of its devotees mourning the loss of one of the only independent drum specialty store in the area, one that lasted more than thirty years before officially succumbing to the demands of a fitful economy on July 7.
The store, in its most recent home in Maplewood at Manchester and Southwest, closed because of a combination of issues that included a changing financial mood in which buyers could no longer be as loyal with their money to the store as before. The independent store was both an intimate way to buy equipment in the middle of the city's wealth of chains and a genuinely personal experience. Drum Headquarters won the RFT's award for Best Musical Instrument Store in 2006 and 2007 in no small part because of its friendly personality and the attention to details of its customers' needs.
Although its owner, Uding, is understandably hesitant to go into the store's story anymore, there are plenty of longtime customers who feel like paying tribute. Shawn O'Connor, drummer for Yowie and R6 Implant, spent twenty years of his musical life frequenting Drum Headquarters twice a month. His first experience with the store was a trip for drumsticks at its previous location in a strip mall a little farther down Manchester. "It was a store filled with people who were honest and actually enthusiastic about what they were selling," O'Connor says. "It was populated by drummers who really knew how to play and knew their equipment. They were honest, so if there was a new thing out, they'd be the first to tell you, 'That's mostly marketing. Wait and get a different one.'"
That's where he bought his 22-inch Zildjian ride cymbal six years ago. Buying a new cymbal can be a surprisingly tricky ordeal: The goal is to match it in appearance and sound quality to your other cymbals, a decision that can take considerable time before a conclusion is reached. "I remember bringing them my three cymbals in and banging on them for an hour while we took pains to find the perfect match," O'Connor says. "It meant a lot to me."
Because of his experience with Drum Headquarters and its focus on creating a community, O'Connor is reticent to take his future business to a more corporate level. O'Connor plans to make the trip to Fred Pierce Studio Drum Shop. Still, he'll miss Drum Headquarters.
"It made the others look like a joke," O'Connor says. "Locally, a lot of people are going to end up going to chain stores like Guitar Center and talking to people who would be totally happy to sell them garbage if it will make them an extra buck. I felt like I got punched in the throat unexpectedly. It's hard to exaggerate."
We'd love to hear more stories about the local gem that was Drum Headquarters. If you have one to share, please add it in our comments section.