ATHENS – When Chick Music opened its doors at 11 a.m. on Dec. 15, customers were already waiting to take advantage of the discount prices and engage in friendly conversation with the employees.
If you missed the “Retirement Sale” signs in the window, it might’ve looked like a typical afternoon of holiday shopping in Athens.
It was the final day of business for Chick Music, a family-owned musical instrument store that first opened in 1942 in a shop on College Avenue, where Lewis Chick tuned pianos in the basement. After joining the staff in 1947, Billy Shepherd and his wife, Anne, bought the business in 1963 and moved to 240 W. Clayton St. four years later.
As the second generation of Shepherds to run Chick Music, Steve, Van and Christy have spent decades treating the shop’s customers like part of the family, and their retirement is hard-earned and well-deserved. On closing day, Steve was busy repairing a violin brought in for maintenance; Christy was on the register; and Van moved back and forth from the sales floor to the front counter.
“This place is a part of Athens music history, but it’s the people who have come through here who made it that way,” said Van. “We appreciate everyone who came by today.”
One of the customers who stopped in to pay tribute to Chick Music was Ken Richardson of Athens hip-hop legends Lo Down and Duddy, whose plaque on the Athens Music Walk of Fame is embedded in the sidewalk just outside of the store. Richardson brought in pizza for the staff donated by Little Italy and shared stories of spending hours in the keyboard room in the early 1990s.
“It’s bittersweet for me to be in here today,” said Richardson. “I learned to make beats on the Alesis SR16 drum machine they sold here, and nobody ever bothered me or asked me to leave. When I got my first income tax return, I came in and I bought it.”
Though the walls that used to be lined with guitars and band instruments were mostly bare, there were still plenty of accessories like drum heads, mic stands and various cables for visitors to pore over, as well as several books of sheet music in the back room.
Staff member Braxton Thompson, who has worked at Chick Music for more than a decade, said that the Shepherds and their employees would likely share their tearful goodbyes when the shop closed and they began moving out the shelves and counters. When asked what he was going to do next, Thompson said he planned to teach music and play gigs in the new year.
In the family spirit that the Shepherds learned from their mother and father, Van said that he and his brother and sisters wouldn’t be fully out the door for another couple of weeks.
“Just knock on the window if you need something,” Van said.