Palatka Music Center has been offering a one-stop shop for the 11,000 residents of Palatka FL since opening its doors on October 29, 1979. The store not only offers a full-line selection of musical instruments and merchandise, but also boasts three lesson rooms, a performance area and a recording studio, which are designed to offer Palatka’s customers maximum sound and privacy.
“All of the walls in this 1,300-square-foot space are 7½ inches thick using a double partition design with sheetrock, soundstop and fiberglass to minimize sound transmission from room to room,” explained Carl Cruce, President of Palatka Music Center. “All of our instructors can be with students and there can be a recording session in progress, all at the same time.”
The painstaking detail Cruce has put into the set-up of his freestanding store is evidence of the pride he feels in the unique mix of services provided by his 34-year-old shop. “How many music stores can you walk into and purchase an instrument, learn to play it, join a rock ‘n’ roll band, perform in three four-hour concerts and record a CD each year?” asked Cruce rhetorically.
“That really is the key to our success for so long in such a small town,” he continued. “We offer name-brand equipment at competitive prices, teach you how to play and keep you playing with a progressive music-education program that takes you from your first note to a concert stage and recording studio.”
Palatka Music Center
3419 St. Johns Ave.
Palatka, FL 32177
Carl Cruce, President
For a store with such a grand vision, Palatka Music Center certainly had humble beginnings. Cruce and his wife, Marsha, first opened the store in the location of a former barbershop. “The space was 11½ feet wide and 30 feet long. The biggest challenge was how to teach, sell and do repairs in 345 square feet,” recalled Cruce, who was a former employee of Ken Stanton Music, as well as a local musician whose band toured with the likes of Chubby Checker, The Guess Who and The Atlanta Rhythm Section.
The Cruces got by, though, with Marsha up front selling instruments and Carl in the back, behind a partition, repairing instruments and teaching lessons. “In 1979, I taught guitar, bass, banjo, drums, music reading, music theory, lap steel and autoharp,” said Cruce, who, before he opened his store, was giving private lessons to 70 students. “As long as I could stay one lesson ahead of my student, I would teach anything.”
After 10 months of paying the rent on time, “the property owner put on an addition that gave us two 8’x8’ teaching studios and allowed the partition to come down. The sales area was now a whopping 345 square feet,” recalled Cruce, who remained in that store for more than seven years.
Despite the shortcomings of the space, Cruce found a way to make his music store thrive. After the first couple of years, he was able to hire one of his teenage students on a part-time basis and, over the years, Cruce has added more square footage and more staff to his business. His three children—Katie, Cara and Jesse, who is a musician himself—have all worked at the store over the years, and Cruce extends that family feel not only to his staff, but also to his customers.
“Families making music together is very important. We promote that idea enthusiastically, and we have many brothers and sisters, dads and sons, cousins, all combinations of family members learning with us,” said Cruce. “What better way to spend time with family and friends than making music?”
Cruce cited one example in particular: that of 18-year-old drum student Allan Walsh. Walsh first began taking drum lessons at Palatka Music Center when he was five years old; about four years ago, Walsh’s father, Rich, joined in on the fun, learning to play left-handed bass guitar so he could join Palatka Music Center’s Rock it Bands program and play the Paul McCartney parts in The Beatles Band. “That’s kind of a reverse situation,” said Cruce, who noted that many of his former students, studio clients and customers bring in their kids for instruction and instrument purchases. “No grandkids yet, but I guess it could happen,” he quipped.
The store’s music-education focus has proved to be a great way to get players of all ages involved in the store. “Our music-education program was doing the ‘school of rock’ thing 28 years ago,” said Cruce. “Our program is not just for kids. We have a lot of interest in bluegrass music from many seniors, and we have many boomers playing in the Rock it Bands.”
Rock it Bands is a very popular program for the store. The bands perform in three concerts every year, including shows for civic organizations and The PalatkaPalooza, a charity event that has benefited worthy organizations, such as The United Way, The Putnam County School Board and The Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. This year’s show raised funds for the Cade Bramlett Foundation, which promotes safe driving habits for teens.
“We ‘seed our own garden’ with our music-education program, which keeps students interested in playing and upgrading to better gear as their skills increase,” explained Cruce, who has designed his selling floor to be comfortable, inviting and easy to use for his customers. “Great care is taken to be sure customers can walk around comfortably with easy access to everything,” he continued. “Stools are set out for sittin’ down and pickin’.”
In the decades since opening his store, Cruce has found a winning formula to keep his customers and his town interested in the art of making music—and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “The goals are the same now as in 1979—keep the doors open,” Cruce said. “The best way that I know of to do that is what we have always done: stock good stuff, price it right, stand behind it, teach fun stuff and provide reasons to keep playing.”