Music and commerce in tune

Sang Park found a way to combine them and now has 2 stores in Howard and a factory in China

Business Profile Wood Bridge Music Inc.

September 20, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

When Sang Park graduated from the Peabody Conservatory with a major in cello in 1996, he considered himself a musician, not a businessman. He took a teaching job at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., then returned to Maryland after a couple of years to give private cello lessons.

But before long, he did start a business.

He opened Wood Bridge Music Shop in Clarksville in 2003. On Aug. 15, he opened a second Wood Bridge store in Ellicott City, and he has plans to open another soon in Northern Virginia. The company is Wood Bridge Music Inc.

"I think this is my way," said Park of West Friendship. "I like it. I can do music and business together."

The Ellicott City store, which opened Aug. 15, is larger than the Clarksville store, with 12 studios where lessons are held. The Clarksville store has eight studios.

Park opened the Ellicott City location, he said, because so many of his Clarksville customers were from the Ellicott City area. He has eight instructors in Ellicott City and hopes to bring that number to 45, he said.

That compares with 30 instructors in Clarksville, he said. All his instructors majored in music, he said.

Though he specializes in string instruments, Park sells other instruments, including woodwind and brass instruments. The string instruments, though, are special because they are made at Park's factory in Shanghai.

When Park opened the Clarksville store, he purchased instruments from other vendors but didn't like what was available, he said. In October 2004, he opened the Shanghai factory, which employs about 150 people and makes 2,000 instruments a year, he said. Park said he travels to Shanghai at least six times a year to tweak his designs and make sure the factory is delivering the quality he expects.

The factory makes string instruments for his two Wood Bridge stores, as well as Wood Bridge stores owned by other people that he supplies in Canada and in South Carolina. About half the instruments are sold to other retailers in Europe and on the West Coast of the United States, he said.

The vast majority of instruments sold and rented at Wood Bridge are violins, Park said. The Ellicott City store stocks about 1,100 violins and about 100 cellos and violas. Prices for violins range from $500 to $2,000. Cellos start at about $1,000 and go to $3,000, he said.

Park's experience with instruments means he also can do repairs.

Park said he encourages young musicians to buy instruments instead of renting them, and he offers credits for students who rent an instrument and later want to buy it. He allows students to trade up to larger instruments when they outgrow smaller ones.

He also gives some instruments to local schools, a program he plans to expand.

Park's new store on U.S. 40 is near a well-established music- rental-and-lessons chain, but Park isn't worried. "It's not a competition," he said. He just tries to have good prices and treat his customers well, he said.

Cheryl Tucker, who had come to the store to explore drum lessons for her son, Brian, 11, agreed that Howard County has room for many music stores.

"I think there are enough kids that need lessons and stuff," she said. "I think it's good."

Evenings are a busy time at the new store, with customers coming in for lessons or to ask about renting instruments.

Jordan Paul of Ellicott City was at Wood Bridge with his son, Benjamin, 5, who held a small guitar.

Benjamin, who is in kindergarten at Manor Woods Elementary School, has been playing since age 2, his father said, and was at Wood Bridge for his first lesson.

"He just strums," Paul said. "He watches video all day and strums."

Paul said he chose Wood Bridge "because they would take a 5-year-old." Wood Bridge teaches children as young as 4, said Park.

Most customers are students who are renting or buying the instruments. Many take music classes at school, and Wood Bridge also offers private half-hour and hourlong lessons.

"We do all lessons," Park said. "String, wind, brass, and especially drum." Most students take lessons once or twice a week, he said.

Park will sometimes give cello lessons, he said. He doesn't play often because he is concentrating on the business, he said.

But his Wood Bridge stores and factory allow him to share his love of music, particularly with young people, he said. "Sports are good," he said. "But music is also very good for the heart."

Wood Bridge is at 5809 Clarksville Square Drive, Suite 103 in Clarksville and at 9251 Baltimore National Pike, Suite F in Ellicott City. The Clarksville phone is 443-535-9677; in Ellicott City, it's 410-203-9663. The Web site is

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