- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

SALEM, Va. (AP) - Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton was probably the most famous student ever to pass through the doors of Ridenhour Music. But its owners say the countless numbers of children who came into the store over the years were the best part of the store.

Some visited the store to pick up an instrument for the first time. Some came to perfect their craft through music lessons. Others needed to get a beloved instrument repaired, to get their guitar strumming just right.

After more than 70 years, Ridenhour Music will cease operation in December. The company, with one remaining store in Salem, has been selling off its deep collection of instruments over the past month. Every day, Cathy Ridenhour said, people come in to say their goodbyes.

“Why are you leaving us?” several longtime customers have asked her. But she said everyone has to retire at some point.

“We’re sad, too,” she said.

“It was all about educating kids on music and sharing the gift of music.”

The last day of the store’s sale is Dec. 17, and the owners will be out by the end of the year.

Cathy Ridenhour is the daughter-in-law of Elmer Ridenhour, the store’s founder. Even though he was a high school dropout, he started his first music business in 1942 in Portsmouth and later opened the first Roanoke Valley location in 1945 on Wise Avenue.

While in southeast Roanoke he taught hundreds, if not thousands, of residents to play music, including a 5-year-old Wayne Newton. Elmer Ridenhour had a preference for steel guitars and Hawaiian music, but after 40 years at the helm, he retired and in 1982 he passed the business along to his son, Jim Ridenhour, who was in corporate sales looking for a career change.

Jim and his wife, Cathy, ran the store at its longtime spot on Salem’s West Main Street and other locations in Roanoke and Christiansburg.

In 2002, Jim Ridenhour transitioned many of the day-to-day operations to his wife and his son, Jerry Ridenhour, and he officially retired in 2010. But it’s not uncommon to still see Jim at the store.

After the Great Recession, Ridenhour closed its other locations and focused on the Salem store. Like many retail businesses, music shops were hit hard during the rise of internet shopping as more people turned online to buy instruments.

Cathy said the marketplace is entirely different than when she got started. But Ridenhour didn’t just sell instruments. It relied also on a healthy mix of lessons and repairs, and a loyal customer base.

“It was kind of like the grandma’s house of music stores,” said Aaron Parker. “And that’s not really (a) bad thing.”

Parker worked at Ridenhour on and off for more than 15 years. He taught almost anything with strings and frets, such as guitar and mandolin. He also did repairs. The store was a great place for burgeoning musicians like himself, he said. He started working there shortly after college when he was 23, and even though he often had to travel for long periods of time, he always was able to come back and work in the shop.

He is now opening his own music store, Enjoyable Noises, in The Electra apartment building on Campbell Avenue Southwest in Roanoke. He will do repairs, teach classes and sell some instruments - sort of like a much smaller version of Ridenhour.

“It’s possible to make a living at it but I don’t think its possible to make a killing,” he said. It’s a job of passion, he explained.

There are still a handful of music shops in the area, such as Kelley’s Music and Fret Mill Music Co. in Roanoke and Rocket Music in Blacksburg. But few are quite as old as Ridenhour.

The 2 West Main St. building housing Ridenhour was put on the market more than a year ago, and Cathy Ridenhour decided she would retire when the building sold. It was purchased in September for $625,000 by RAFAN LLC, which is owned by Roanoke developer Faisal Kahn, who recently renovated the Roanoke YMCA into modern new apartments called the Locker Room Lofts.

He is also responsible for the redevelopment of the old Crystal Tower building into the 90-apartment Ponce de Leon in downtown Roanoke.

Kahn said he doesn’t have definite plans for the property yet but said it has potential as a mixed-used residential property with commercial space. He said he has been interested in Salem for several years and was very familiar with Ridenhour. He, like so many others, took music lessons there growing up.

Cathy Ridenhour said finding the right person to buy the property, which sits in the middle of downtown Salem, was an important part of selling it.

The property covers three stories, all of which were used by the store. The owners had to hire a marketing company to come in just to help them sell off the inventory, a plethora of pianos, drums, brass instruments and everything in between.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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