Music store owners hope to revive Cherryfield

Posted June 25, 2009, at 8:20 p.m.

CHERRYFIELD, Maine — Despite being in the midst of a recession, despite being in the middle of Washington County, and despite being hours from any major city, two music lovers have opened up a music supply store on Route 182.

“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Leah Backman, co-owner, said this week. “But we think we have hit on a positive in a negative environment.”

Just around the corner, in the center of Cherryfield, empty storefronts face U.S. Route 1.

“Ever since the Union Trust Bank left three or four years ago, things here have been going downhill,” Backman said. After the bank left, a car dealership moved to Machias. A convenience store closed. A coffee shop went under.

Backman and her business partner, Randy Merritt, hope to get the economic ball rolling by showing they believe in Washington County’s future.

“We’re hoping that people will see us start a new business and believe it is possible for them. All you need to do is start small, work hard and grow,” Backman said.

By holding family-oriented concerts, coffeehouse nights and offering children’s lessons, the pair feel their community involvement will translate into community growth.

The new business, Sticks, Picks and Strings, is run by Merritt with Backman handling the books and details. “He’s the musician and I’m good with the books,” Backman said.

Merritt has a lengthy background in the music industry. As a percussionist, he has performed in bands up and down the East Coast for 35 years, performing in Canada, Florida, Nashville and Maine. He operated Starr Sound Productions out of the Bangor area and still does disc jockey work and sound and lighting production.

“But I was getting burned up on the road,” Merritt said. He moved to his grandfather’s farm and it was only natural that he focus on the music he loves.

“I believe that Washington County and Down East need a music outlet,” he said. “Now, you have to drive all the way to Ellsworth to buy a $5 pair of guitar strings and it will cost you $20 to get there.”

The couple opened the business in early June and said the community and surrounding area have been incredibly supportive.

“It is our vision to cater to the community,” Merritt said. A stage is under construction outside the store that will become the venue for monthly music concerts. “No alcohol allowed,” Merritt said. “This is a family gathering event. This is not just about music but about entertainment as a whole. We want to be a hub and entice other economic development.”

Merritt said that while struggling to start the business, he is having the time of his life. “Now I can play music, not for the revenue, not as a job, but for fun — like when I was 15,” he said.

The pair said they also will hold small coffeehouse nights and events where children can meet musical artists, touch and try out instruments, and get a sense of what creating music is all about.

Sticks, Picks and Strings sells a variety of music supplies, including guitars, drums, cymbals, lighting, amplifiers and supplies. “We can order anything and have it delivered almost overnight,” Backman said.

A grand opening celebration is set for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 27, and will include music by Charlie Tenan, The Berkely Boys, Linda Pain, Jenny Penny, Bill Branca and the band Stillwater. Free refreshments will be served.

The store is located at the corner of Route 182 and North Street. It is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information, contact 546-4212 or stickspicksstrings@localnet.com.

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