By LOU WILIN
A naysayer once said she would never be able to afford to open a storefront in downtown Findlay.
“I don’t believe that,” thought Deb Frye, co-owner of Guitar Ranch, 622 S. Main St. “I believe that you put in enough hard work, you can do it.”
Twenty-five years after its opening, Guitar Ranch, which sells and repairs guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles, stands as silent testimony.
It’s been a long journey, literally.
Before she opened the store, Frye’s business was buying and selling vintage guitars at guitar shows and pawn shops in Texas, Chicago, Memphis and other places.
Her father was an auctioneer who obtained vintage guitars for auction.
“As the guitars would come in for the sales, I would sit in the apartment and play the guitar,” Frye said. “I was a lucky kid … I didn’t play good. I just tried.”
She first thought about buying and selling vintage guitars as a teenager, but did not act on that dream until years later. She worked at other jobs while raising her children.
When they got old enough, Frye launched her career of buying and selling vintage guitars at shows.
“It was fun, though, because you looked for guitars on the way. And it was experiences. It was way different back then,” she said. “That was before the eBay and you could actually find guitars.”
Sometimes it was not so fun.
There was the time a guy in West Virginia, who had previously sold her a ’61 Stratocaster guitar, called her again, saying this time he had a vintage bass guitar.
It was before the advent of smartphones so getting a quick photo of the guitar was not an option. Frye made the long drive.
This time, the guitar had oven knobs on it.
Her business travels once took Frye to a pawn shop off a Kentucky highway. After a few minutes inside the pawn shop, her instincts told her the two men were setting her up to be robbed, or worse.
“You know how you get the gut feeling and you better act on it,” she recalled. “Well, I did get the gut feeling.”
She abruptly left, carrying her $20,000 in cash. It was a narrow escape.
“I got in my van, locked it and prayed it’d start and off I went,” she said. “I’m on a highway in Kentucky, no one around other than this pawn shop. It was dangerous.”
It was the end of her days of buying and selling vintage guitars on the road.
The market was declining anyway, she said.
“The Japanese weren’t buying as much. The majority of the stuff you sold was to the Japanese,” Frye said.
“The stuff I carried was so high-end that normal people weren’t able to buy it,” she said.
She first opened The Guitar Ranch in Tiffin, 25 years ago. A man named George Head started offering guitar lessons at her store. Then he started repairing guitars at the Tiffin store.
When a guitar store owner in Findlay told Frye he was closing, Frye moved her store to Findlay.
Head was thinking about opening his own guitar repair shop.
“I didn’t want to lose a good repair person and an honest person like he is,” Frye said. She invited him to be a partner in the business, and he accepted.
Frye and Head have been a couple for 22 years and business partners for 20.
“There’s times George’s repairs carry us when people aren’t buying,” she said. “There’s a lot of times those repairs save us.”
That was true at times in recent years when Guitar Ranch had to endure a slump in customers resulting from construction projects downtown.
The store temporarily lost on-street customer parking when Marathon Petroleum Corp. was expanding its downtown complex, and then building a hotel across the street from Guitar Ranch.
The renovation of Main Street downtown also caused a downturn in customer traffic.
“We struggled hard to make it through,” Frye said.
“It was everything. It was the flood. It was the fire (which destroyed the Argyle apartment building a block to the north). It was the road work, but everyone went through that. Not just me, but everyone,” she said.
Head helped boost Guitar Ranch’s sales during recent lean years with an idea.
“Ukulele is big,” Frye said.
Head suggested the store order a dozen of them a couple of years ago.
“I thought he was crazy,” she said.
“Those sold so fast,” Frye said. “How did I miss this boat?”
A ukulele can be just as expensive as a guitar. But some can be bought for a lower price and be just as good as a guitar, she said. Because of the ukulele’s small size, some parents buy them with six strings for their small children to learn guitar.
But the ultimate keys to the Guitar Ranch’s survival of its recent adversities were other things.
“I was never rich, so I can do without a lot to make things work,” Frye said. “I don’t know what it’s like to have all the money you ever needed.”
“I’m not getting rich. This is just income, but we do the best we can here with what we have,” Frye said.
“The key with us surviving this last four years was the customers, man. The ones that did come. The ones that went through all of that crap coming in.”
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