A requiem for Shubert's

Music: Longtime customers mourn business' closing.

August 01, 2002|By Brendan Kearney | Brendan Kearney,SUN STAFF

Nestled neatly among fast-food establishments, nondescript gas stations and sterile bank branches on Reisterstown Road sits Shubert Music Inc., a reminder of the days when mom and pop businesses were the norm, not the quaint exception.

Inside, Myron Froehlich, the proprietor, caters to the needs of his customers, shuffling back and forth from the cash register to the instrument storage room to the file cabinets of sheet music that line the north wall of the store.

With knowing efficiency and subtle urgency to his movements, Froehlich finds whatever a shopper needs: from obscure scores of classical music to the telephone number of a local piano teacher to an old trombone for a high school band director. All with a kind demeanor that keeps his customers coming back, generation to generation.

Now, after almost 50 years of serving Baltimore's music community, Shubert Music is closing, much to the chagrin of Froehlich's many longtime friends and patrons. The store closed officially at 6 p.m. yesterday but, following the wishes of customers, Froehlich has agreed to hold a clearance sale Tuesday through Thursday to decrease Shubert's sizable inventory.

"There's no place like Shubert's. It's one of a kind," said Billy Lipman, a member of the Mood Swings Big Band who learned his craft in 10 years of lessons with a Shubert teacher that ended in 1973. "They were the reason that I became what I am. I owe them everything.

"Every customer there was important to them. You don't find that in these big stores. You just don't," Lipman said. "It's like a legend that went down."

Froehlich, 52, said the increasing dominance of chain stores and the advent of Internet commerce have simply left him without a niche.

"The pie keeps getting sliced a little smaller," Froehlich said of the store's steady decline during the past decade. "I just kept hoping for a turnaround, but it's gotten to the point where I'm behind on payments and I have to cut my losses. It's hard being a small store.

"I feel bad leaving people with a void like that," said Froehlich. He said he might try selling music and instruments by mail from his home. "There were a lot of people I knew on a first-name basis."

There were long faces, sighs and even tears when they learned of the closing of the store, which sold, rented and repaired almost every type of band instrument.

Dorothy Levin, 81, has worked beside Froehlich at 518 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville for the past 13 years.

"I've made so many friends here," said Levin, fighting back tears. "The thing that sets me off [crying] is when people say, `Where are we going to go?' There's not another place like it."

The Shubert story began in 1954 when Myron's parents, Herbert and Judith Froehlich, opened a music store in the 5200 block of Park Heights Ave. Herbert, a piano tuner who had immigrated to Baltimore in 1938 from Germany, could not give his name to the store because there was a Froehlich music shop on Eastern Avenue. So, according to his son, he picked a composer out of a hat and omitted the "C" in the name of Franz Schubert for uniqueness.

A short 1998 profile of Herbert Froehlich in The Sun told of Herbert's experience in Haifa, then part of Palestine, in 1935, when Herbert shared a room for 18 months with the "righteous Gentile" Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who later helped thousands of Hungarian Jews safely escape the Nazis.

Herbert Froehlich, who died in January, said Wallenberg "influenced him to help people later," Myron Froehlich said.

Shubert's thrived until Pimlico Race Course, looking to expand, bought the shopping center where the store sat. Myron Froehlich, who officially took over the business in 1965, decided to relocate to a shopping center on Liberty Road in 1975, although a second store in Cockeysville that opened in 1970 remained. The second Shubert's closed in the early 1980s, Myron Froehlich said, and a changing customer base necessitated the Liberty Road's store's move to Reisterstown in 1991.

Phil Kolker, principal bassoonist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the past 30 years, has patronized Shubert's since its days in Pimlico and values the personalized service he has received.

"They're really nice people - very helpful, very supportive," said Kolker, 60, who also serves as chairman of orchestral instruction at Peabody Conservatory. "I'll miss them a lot."

Audrey McCallum, retired chairwoman of the music department and choir director at Western High School in Baltimore for 30 years, bought materials for her students at Shubert's.

"They were just marvelous to me. Everything I needed I could get there," said McCallum, 64, the first African-American to graduate from the Peabody Preparatory School in 1956. "It's going to be a loss for us. I just think it's bad and it's sad, because who can take his place?"

Shubert's teachers tutored scores of aspiring musicians during the years, currently training an estimated 100 students in the four studios at the rear of the store.

Herman Meyer, a guitar teacher who lives in Towson, reserved special praise for the store's owner: "If there were more business people in the world like Myron, it'd be a better place. You just couldn't ask for a nicer guy."

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