Eagle River’s only music store is closing up shop
EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (AP) — Maybe Mike’s Music just rocked too hard.
The quirky Eagle River mom-and-pop is closing its doors this summer, more than 25 years after a precocious schoolboy convinced his parents to help him start an instrument rental business to pay for an expensive violin. The magnitude 7.1 earthquake that rolled through town last November finally did the place in, according to store owner Sharon Dunckle.
“It’s absolutely bittersweet,” said Dunckle, Mike’s mom and for more than two decades the tone deaf bandleader at the store that has supplied instruments and lessons to generations of local musicians.
Dunckle said the quake caused major damage to the building the shop occupies, which led to a major disruption in the business. First, the store had to close for more than two weeks at the height of Christmas shopping season. Although Mike’s was been able to reopen before the holiday, one end of the strip mall it occupies remains closed, its walls propped up with support beams from the outside. Part of the parking lot is draped in bright orange temporary fencing, and Dunckle said she’s seen business drop off dramatically.
“The aftereffects of the earthquake and not anyone understanding we’re open has hurt the business and it’s just not sustainable,” she said. “And I’m 66, it’s time to retire and spend time with my grandkids, not start rebuilding a business.”
Dunckle started a going-out-of-business sale Monday and is offering deals ranging from 20 to 70 percent off. Everything must go. She said the store’s instrument rental customers will be allowed to keep their instruments for the life of their contracts, and she’s offering steep discounts for folks who might want to pay off early.
“We’re not trying to talk anybody into anything but we’re trying to give them as many options as possible,” she said. “We know the store closing is going to be inconvenient for the community, but we’re trying to make it easy if we can.”
Nevertheless, Chugiak-Eagle River will miss its only music store agreed customers who packed the shop Monday for some killer deals on everything from used drum sticks to electric ukuleles.
Eagle River teen Sam Weber strummed an electric guitar. Chugiak High band director Kody Trombley looked over high-end trumpets. Wasilla’s Debbie Simpson stopped by on her lunch break with ukulele bandmate Wendy Luft of Eagle River.
“How many ukes is enough ukes?” Simpson asked. “One more than you have.”
Simpson and Luft are members of the Alaska Jumping Flea Society (ukulele means “jumping fleas” in Hawaiian, Luft said), which plays Friday nights at 7 p.m. at Guido’s Pizza in Anchorage. Each leaped at the chance to add to their collections when they heard about the sale at Mike’s and both walked out with new Oscar Schmidt ukes Monday — Simpson’s a concert, Luft’s an electric tenor.
“This will be 12 for me,” Luft said.
Weber, 17, said he learned to play guitar from instructor Kyle Harrington at Mike’s music. Now Weber plays funk and jazz with his friends and said music is a big part of his life. He said he’ll miss the store that’s been sparking interest in music for kids like him since the early 1990s.
“I came here a lot, so it’s kind of weird that it’s closing,” he said.
One of those kids who grew up on Mike’s music was Kody Trombley, who grew up to become his alma mater’s band director after falling in love with music in a band class at Mirror Lake Middle School taught by Travis Harrington, Kyle’s brother.
“I bought my first trumpet here,” said Trombley, who was testing out a pair of professional level trumpets Monday afternoon while pricing instruments for the band program.
Trombley explained that subtle things like weight and shape make a big difference in the quality of the instrument’s sound.
“On trumpets you look for the weight for one, that’s going to tell you the quality of the metal, that’s the biggest indicator,” he said before demonstrating by playing several sharp, soulful notes on the silver-plated horn.
Trombley said the love of music he learned by playing that first trumpet has provided him with lifelong relationships and friends.
“That’s band culture, that’s the way we operate,” he said.
Trombley represents a through line to the beginning of Mike’s Music. The CHS band director studied under Travis Harrington, who himself came up through the music program at Chugiak High, where the late Phil Burch taught music. It was Burch who taught young Mike Dunckle to play the violin, and it was Dunckle — then a 12-year-old violinist for the Birchwood Elementary School orchestra — who convinced his parents Sharon and David to let him start renting out instruments in order to buy a $10,000 violin.
“He just didn’t want to mow lawns,” Sharon Dunckle said during an interview in her cluttered back office, which is packed with two decades of accumulated bells and whistles as well as a high-tech security camera system.
With the help of Burch the family purchased several instruments, which Mike then rented out to other student musicians. In the first year it was mostly her son and husband working the business.
“It was a little bit slow the first year or so, but they taught themselves how to do repairs, they used their time wisely,” she said.
Her son proved an adept businessman, and before long the music store had moved into a full-time store. When he was 16, Mike had made enough money to buy a handmade violin from local violin make John Osnes.
“As it turned out he really did know his stuff,” Dunckle said.
Mike moved Outside more than a decade ago to pursue a career in law enforcement, leaving Sharon to lead a small band of dedicated employees at Mike’s. A while back, Dunckle told her son she was thinking about closing up shop.
“It’s time,” she said.
Dunckle said she’s hopeful a new music store will arrive to take Mike’s place.
“When we opened there was no music store here. And now people are probably going to have to go into Anchorage or I’m hoping one of the music stores in town will decide to come out and open up,” she said.
Though she’s been surrounded by the sound of music for most of her life, Dunckle readily confessed she never learned to play herself.
“I am the best musical appreciator there is, because I am tone deaf and I cannot play an instrument, so I am the best audience in the world,” she said. “So when the kids come in and play and they’re out of tune I still love it.”
Though she expects the store to close for good by the end of the month, Dunckle is proud of the legacy of music her store has left in Eagle River.
“Music brings people joy. Music crosses all boundaries. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, how you identify, it doesn’t matter, because everybody loves music,” she said. “I have never met a person in my entire life that has said ‘I hate music.’ Music is what makes people people.”