By Steve Robinson | February 2, 2018 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

After 48 years, one of Normal’s oldest businesses known for helping people of all ages either develop or nurture their love of guitar music closed its door for the last time on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Guitar World, 129 E. Beaufort St., a fixture since the days when Carlos Santana, Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton, Joan Baez, and the late Harry Chapin were hot on the music scene, closed its doors for the last time after 48 years in business on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Jim Bland was part of a partnership when the shop opened in 1970 and has owned the store outright since 1978 after buying out that partner. He changed the store’s name from Ax-In-Hand. The original store sat in a little building behind the Normal Post Office with the store front facing Broadway across from the original offices of The Normalite. That location is now where a garage exit from Uptown Commons leading onto Broadway can be found.

The store’s original name came from a slang term musicians use to describe their instrument. “’I’ve got to take my axe to a job’ is how musicians would explain” an upcoming gig, Bland said. The store’s name was changed to Guitar World in 1978. The store moved to its current location in 2008.

Bland said one of the drawbacks to closing the store will be its affect will have on local guitar instructors and those who want to learn from them. In the age of the internet, where do-it-yourself learning is possible, he said closing his doors puts those instructors at a disadvantage for finding students. Bland said those teachers aren’t being sought out as much by students as they used to by those wanting to learn.

“When we started here, we had 105 people teaching lessons,” Bland said. He said that number has shrunk to roughly 40.

Bland said among the notables who either walked through his store’s door was Steve Howe from the 70’s group Yes. Bland said Howe walked in when he was touring and performing at what is now Grossinger Motors Arena in Downtown Bloomington. “He bought some strings, some picks, and a tuner, and a strap because he had a day off from touring and was going to St. Louis to jam with some friends,” Bland explained.

Bland said Howe explained to him he “just likes to shop at little local shops when he’s on tour.”

That wasn’t the only brush with famous musicians the store had. Bland said a backup musician for 70s artist Freddie Fender came into the shop when Fender was performing at Illinois State University’s Braden Auditorium. The backup man came into the shop with a guitar in need of repair: One of its chords was duct taped to its base. The musician had been playing it in that condition and found the shop to get it fixed. At the time of that visit, Fender had a Top 40 hit playing called, “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights.”

The store hasn’t just seen the famous or members of an entourage stop by, Bland said. It has, mostly by word of mouth, earned some notoriety itself away from home. Former students who once took lessons at the store who now earn a living in the music industry, have mentioned the little shop where they first learned chords.

Bland said his son, Jim Jr., came in contact with an unidentified man who told the son he knew of his father’s store because of his friend, Mike Patterson. Patterson, as it turned out, continued on in the music business working his way to becoming historian for Shure Microphones, and as a college student in the 1990s, used to shop at Guitar World.

Bland said it has gotten too expensive to maintain his store, a fact that was the chief reason for his decision to close. But although the store will be gone, Bland will continue to operate a second business, GW Audio, which will set up and operate sound systems at area events, as well as do installation of sound equipment.

Bland said he’ll miss regularly meeting with folks coming through his shop, “seeing all the people.” He added, “I just want to say thank you for all the support that they’ve given me for years,” Bland said. “I know things change, and we were always available to help people who came to us, and we were able to help them with any problems and that’s what we’re here for.”

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