Words by Alex Watts
Photography by Meg De Young
Located in the middle of Russell Street, nestled between a bar and The Melbourne Philosophical Society lies one of the city’s longest standing musical retail outlets, Lewis’ Music Store. Established on May 7, 1962, in a shop close to where he now stands, Roger Lewis has been quietly plying his trade and extensive equipment knowledge for 53 years, becoming a welcome local fixture. “I have people coming in to me for 30-40 years, people just come in for a chat sometimes! A lot of repeat (customers). Everybody knows I’m here,” says Lewis with a smile.
While the decades have witnessed numerous small stores and large chains alike collapse, Lewis has wisely never been tempted to chase trends or expand beyond his area of expertise, namely selling new and second hand acoustic instruments. Being a one-man operation in a 47 square-metre shop, this is indeed a matter of practicality.
“If somebody wants something I’ll try and get it for them if I haven’t got it. In general, you don’t ‘oh that’s a good deal, give me 500 of those’, especially when I’ve got nowhere to put 500, except for guitar picks! There are people who’ve done that and gotten in trouble.”
Besides retail Lewis also repairs and maintains instruments and has a reputation as one of the top doctors for brass, woodwind and accordions in Melbourne.
“I get a lot of referrals from importers, wholesalers, and other shops. We go to New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, all around the state actually. I do it in-between customers, so I’m always on the go. If don’t have someone in the shop I’m doing some repairs — yesterday I knocked off four clarinets before I opened the door so it’s handy.”
Lewis sees the key to his continuing success as a combination of customer service skills and product knowledge. “If someone walks in and asks for X/Y/Z product you gotta know what they’re talking about, you can’t say ‘hang along, I’ll jump on Google and see what that means’”, he says emphatically.
“You’ve gotta know everything instrument-wise, certainly repair-wise. It’s not good you coming to me with an oboe and saying the F#’s not working and I don’t know where it is – ‘can you show me which one that is mate?’”
Last October marked a milestone for Lewis as he was awarded the Lord Mayor’s Platinum Commendation — The City of Melbourne’s highest award signifying over 50 years in business. “I’m the only music person to have ever got it I think, ‘cause nobody’s been here as long as I have. There were five shops in Russell Street at one stage, they’ve all gone except me.”
Although the music retail business may not be able to sustain as many stores as it once did, Lewis is adamant that it will never die out, as long as people are playing music. “If someone’s playing recorded music it’s been recorded by somebody and they had to start somewhere,” he says definitively.
“There might not (always) be as many instruments as there used to be, some of it is electronic, but it’s all live music and it’s mainly traditional instruments; all need maintenance!
“I’m very happy in my 47 square metres here, I’d go mad if I was at home. It has been mentioned I might add, ‘when are you retiring?’ I said ‘when I feel like it, but it won’t be today, there’s too much to do.’”
Check out Lewis’ catalogue via www.lewismusicstore.com.au