Owning a music store was a childhood dream for Stewart Ray.
Ten years ago, Ray fulfilled his dream when he opened Center Stage Music, which sells guitars, drums, keyboards and sound equipment, at 3830 Washington Road. Originally, Ray and his father, a traveling salesman, wanted to open the store together, but his father died before they could do it.
“Music is my passion and what better way to live out your passion than to own a music store,” Ray said.
In the early days, Ray had only three employees, including himself. Today, he has six workers, plus four teachers who offer music lessons.
Center Stage Music’s customers include local musicians, parents buying instruments for their children and adults who want to learn to play an instrument later in life.
Also a musician, Ray has a lot of expertise to offer. He has played the drums for the local band Flashback, which plays oldies, beach music, Motown and country, for 22 years. He has also played at his church, Abilene Baptist Church, for more than two decades.
“Churches have gotten to be a big business, too. There’s a lot of praise and worship music that’s going on now. The church music scene has changed dramatically over the last eight to 10 years,” Ray said.
The Internet has also changed business during the last five years, Ray said.
“People are so savvy,” he said. “They’re comparing prices, so we have to be real competitive with everything we sell. With some of the Internet locations, it has really been a challenge. It makes you buy smarter and sell smarter.”
However, buying an instrument from a storefront location has its perks, he said. Customers can get hands-on advice from experts and even last-minute assistance. On several occasions, famous musicians in town for a concert have needed items from his store, he said.
Running a music store is expensive, Ray said.
“The profit margin is not what everybody thinks it is. It’s very little with us having to compete with all the big stores and the online access that people have,” he said.
Still, Ray can’t imagine doing anything else. He loves his job and music so much that he could talk about them all day, he said.
“I’m having too much fun. There’s not a job on the face of the earth that I would rather have,” Ray said.