By Michael Harri
Cole's Music Company in Spokane's Garland District is no Guitar Center. Customers won't see huge amplifiers, walls of guitars, or posters of famous rock stars. Instead, owner Eben Cole's taste in quality vintage equipment matches the District's intimate old town feel.
Cole's is not about quantity of selection. In fact the quaint shop shares space with a violin shop. Together, the two stores couldn't hold more than a handful of customers. However, the quality strikes a resounding chord with collectors miles away. About 60 percent of Cole's guitars are sold to Los Angeles and East Coast guitar shops.
"I let my guitars determine my clientele," Cole said, sitting on a lone stool behind a glass case adorned with material that only collectors could recognize. "If the guitar doesn't fit, I won't get it."
Cole's love of vintage fits well on Garland Avenue. The nostalgic 1940s style shopping district offers customers a personal setting for the three music shops on a single street. Everything has a vintage feel in Cole's, right down to the shag couch, antique lamp, and aged stickers on his display case.
Adjacent business Violin Works specializes in classical instrument repair and sales, and owner James Kytonen enjoys the closeness of working together. Cole and Kytonen not only share tools for instrument repairs, but also share a past.
The original Cole's Music Company was opened in 1967 in Senora, Calif., by Eben's Cole's father Gene. Gene Cole gave Kytonen violin lessons when he was a child. The California shop was sold to a family friend, and Gene Cole opened a store in Colorado. Years later, Eben Cole needed extra money as a student at Eastern Washington University and worked for Hoffman Music in Spokane as repair manager. Soon he found that his repair work was more important than his homework and opened shop full time.
Kytonen helped Eben Cole into his new location in August 2008. Being neighbors is just a small part of the sense of community shared by shop owners in the district.
"We share tools and ideas. We look out for each other," Kytonen said, naming all the shop owners by first name.
Also on Garland Avenue is Mark's Guitar, providing mainly electric guitars and amplifiers. The Garland District "has a pretty cool vibe. A little less hustle and bustle," Mark's Guitar Shop owner Nate Corning said. "We enjoy having the other shops. They bring in more business and different markets." The two guitar shops work to cover a wide array of customer needs. "I refer customers who are looking for the modern electric guitar to Mark's," Eben Cole said. "They love what they do."
The cards of all three businesses are also displayed in each shop.
Cole's Music is the only store in Spokane that carries bluegrass instruments, with resonators, banjoes, and even a tiny selection of brass. His repair shop in the back doubles as a photo booth for his instruments for online postings.
"I'm very particular on repairs. I go the extra mile and work on them as if it's my own," Cole said.